Archive for August, 2011

News and Analysis (8/31/11)

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

“There is currently not a single Sunni mosque available for use in the capital, despite there being several churches and synagogues. Instead, they have to rent houses for their prayers but were not allowed to use them for this year’s Eid ceremonies”:

A Muslim resident of Killeen, TX on assignment in Iraq says “he has never seen such a high level of support like what the leadership of the 4th Inf. Div. provided during Ramadan”:

An example for Anders Behring Breivik to follow? Confessing his crime, Arid Uka “deeply regrets” being taken in by hate propaganda:

Nearly a third of the billions spent for the Iraq and Afghani wars went to waste and fraud and unless dramatic action is taken (how about ending the wars?) “commission member and … Pentagon comptroller during President George W. Bush’s first term” Dov Zakheim predicts, “More waste. More fraud. More abuse”:

Rep. Ellision says the release of the soldier whose job is to perpetuate the occupation of Palestine would be “a humane, decent thing [for Hamas] to do,” but wouldn’t an Israeli release of the thousands Palestine civilian political prisoners held without charge also be a humane, decent — or at least, just — thing to do?

Yamulkas are also banned at “America’s only government-owned amusement park,” but witnesses say that when a Muslim woman loudly argued with police, they “pushed her on the ground and arrested her” along with two young male relatives who tried to protect her:

Do you have an “ancestry of interest” to the CIA? Despite denials, internal police documents show that “officers were told … to determine the ethnicity of business owners and eavesdrop on conversations inside cafes”:

Amnesty International “says those who died, including 10 children, were subjected to beatings, burns, electric shocks and other abuse.
The group says it believes all of those who died were arrested after taking part in anti-government protests”:

Developments in Libya:


News and Analysis (8/29/11)

Monday, August 29th, 2011

“And do not … eat up wrongfully and knowingly … (other) people’s property” (Qur’an 2:188); Turkey’s Islamic government moves to rectify the injustice of Turkey’s Kemalist founders who seized non-Muslim minorities’ immovable property through the “1936 Declaration”:

An in-depth investigation shows that Islamophobia is the product of “a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts,” a “spreading of hate and misinformation [that] primarily starts with five key people and their organizations, which are sustained by funding from a clutch of key foundations”:

Calling the move to turn lecturers, chaplains and porters into informants “morally repugnant”  a college students’ union president asks after “the recent massacre in Norway, why are Prevent not also telling us to refer on students who have an irrational hatred of Islam?”:

The list of potential beneficiaries of a Palestinian-Israeli war includes Syria’s Bashar Assad:

Like pre-war Libya–or Syria?

Developments in Libya:


News and Analysis (8/25/11)

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

A “swift victory is not certain – raising concerns about an insurgency”:

NYCLU’s Donna Lieberman says, “The most effective means for the government to identify security threats is by focusing on criminal behavior, not religious belief,” but …

… and although 57% of Americans would allow “a person who advocates doing away with elections and letting the military run the country” teach in the schools, 59% would  deny freedom of speech completely to “A Muslim clergyman who preaches hatred of the United States”:

A T-shirt jihad: “Frisk me, I’m Muslim”

He’s been told playing music is un-Islamic and threatened with death “for taking phone calls from women,” so what happens when they find out this Afghani DFJ’s pro-American messages are scripted by the U.S. Army:

News and Analysis (8/23/11)

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

In the fog of war, Tripoli is in chaos; the rebels have the momentum and Gaddafi’s compound, but Gaddafi and Saif-al-Islam are still at large, vowing to fight to the end; Libyan-Americans support the rebels, but what happens next is as uncertain as how to spell “Gaddafi”:

“Majid Jamali Fashi had confessed to the murder of Massoud Ali Mohammadi, a physics professor at Tehran University, on 12 January 2010” and “allegedly said he was ordered by Mossad to carry out five other killings, but did not go through with them”:

Describing the Mubarak regime as “a strategic asset to Israel,” a “group of politicians including former Arab League head Amr Moussa and other candidates for Egypt’s presidency called for the return of the Egyptian ambassador from Israel, more troops in Sinai and trials for Israelis responsible for the killing” of five Egyptian security officers:

The government offers “toothless” version of Hazare’s bill and some among the Muslim, Christian and Dallit minorities have reservations, but 87% of Indians support his bill

News and Analysis (8/22/11)

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Syrians are  emboldened by signs of an imminent victory for the rebels in Libya

…. but in “a comment that appeared designed to include Turkey, [Assad] warned ‘countries close and far away’ against intervening” as “Syrian opposition groups” met in Istanbul aiming “to elect a national council” after the model of the National Transitional Council in Libya that attained international recognition:

Rebels have seized Tripoli neighborhoods and taken and their supporters, “silent for months, emerged,” but continuing clashes sent celebrating “residents back into their homes Monday.” Two of his sons are in custody, but if  Gaddafi falls, Libya faces multiple “independent armed groups with different loyalties and who may have different visions for Libya” …

… meanwhile, “[b]oth Akamai (top) and Google (bottom) recorded a spike in web traffic on 22 August”:

Maligned by an investigation that then-head of “the FBI’s terrorist financing operations section” says “should never have happened,” a founding father of major American Muslim organizations points out that rather than disapprove of American-style democracy, the Arab spring is about Muslims’ desire to see it spread in the Muslim world:

The Dar-al-Uloom Deboandi seminary, Imarat Shariah of Bihar, the Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz organization of lower class Muslims, all now support Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, and the sole RJD assemblyman Asif Mohammad Khan has “resigned from the party in protest against” its leader’s opposition to Hazare:

“A spokesman for the Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has denied that it is ending its de facto ceasefire with Israel, following an earlier report on a Hamas radio station claiming the truce was over; rather the unilateral ceasefire has been succeeded by an Egyptian and UN brokered agreement:

“What never wavers: Nearly all Americans, about 95%, consistently say they believe in God or a higher power”:

IIIT Roundtable on Islamic Studies in American Universities

Saturday, August 20th, 2011


[This is the ninth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on iftaa and fatwa held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference and represents my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Moderator: Mazen Hashem
IIIT Council of Scholars Roundtable on Islamic Studies in American Universities
Ingrid Mattson, Mahmoud Ayoub, Mumtaz Ahmad, Muqtedar Khan, Zahid Bukhari

Zahid Bukhari: A working draft of our policy recommendations has emerged from the Center or Islam and Public Policy study on the state of Islam in American universities.

Mumtaz Ahmad: All the reports and recommendations are available at the IIIT website. The project was conceived on the premise that Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies are divided into pre- and post-publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism, which profoundly shook the field. Since then a new generation of Islamic scholars have emerged with new theories and experimentation. We have examined who established the tradition of Islamic studies imported from Western Europe, the roles of Arab Christian scholars, and how this classical tradition based on the study of texts, philology, humanities, and language changed, especially in the context of the Cold War, to be more policy driven than scholarship driven. U.S. national security interests impacted the relationship between the U.S. and the Muslim world. After Orientalism, scholars were put to shame by their collaboration with the imperialist enterprise. The new scholarship is more aware of its intellectual responsibility to go beyond the narrow focus of U.S. national security interests. Our main weakness was our strength: none of us were Islamic studies scholars; all were trained as political scientists. This gave us the humility to approach the people who were experts to reformulate our questions and sharpen the assumptions on which we had proceeded. Besides a critical survey on how Islam 101 is taught (the first comprehensive survey of this kind ever), we undertook five or six case studies of major centers of Islamic study, the first in such detail.  A variety of subjects, like the treatment of Muslim women under gender studies, are covered. Carl Ernst’s edited volume covers a different terrain than ours. Ernst and is colleagues focus on the future of Islamic studies; our focuses is on the current state of the art.

Khan: I am not on this panel because I am a political scientist, but because I founded an Islamic studies program at the University of Delaware (UD) five years ago and was its founding director for three years. I left it because I feel 9/11 has stolen ten years of my life. UD is unique. For example, it is the only private university largely funded by the state (just under 10%). Religion  has been the concubine of philosophy there, as we have no religious studies department and religious studies is disliked in the philosophy department. Being in the political science department, I have to put the word “global” into the title of every course. (I will be soon teaching a course on “Introduction to Global Qur’an.”) Many universities put their Islamic studies under Near Eastern studies. Even the CMCU at GU is under their area studies program. Every department needs its own Islam guy. The only course dealing with Shariah at UD is taught by a professor of criminal law, so all you will learn is hudûd laws, because that’s what he knows. To minor in a subject you need six courses, so you can minor in Islamic studies without having touched the Qur’an or hadith. I created an Islamic studies program by copying the Jewish studies program and housing it under area studies. I use Islam: the Straight Path at the 200 level, Sachicko Murata and William Chittick’s book The Vision of Islam at the 300 level and Fazlur Rahman at the Ph.D. level. I have a Ph.D. student in physics who wants to take my Ph.D. level course. I reserve 10% of the lower level course seats for heritage students. The faculty is not opposed to teaching an introductory course for heritage students alone, but want to know how you would teach the class and how would you avoid separation of religion concerns. Imagine Robert Spencer teaching such an introductory course to heritage students. You can’t critique without first introducing the subject. There is a Ph.D. student who wants to study Shia thought rather than Iran, and after three years of study has finally been told that he needs Arabic rather Persian to do that. Stand-alone Islamic studies programs are the heart and the core of serious work. MEISGS is a very good discussion group at yahoogroups. You must be invited to participate. I sent an e-mail asking why is there repetition in the Qur’an, and I got an e-mail from a sister in Pennsylvania saying she’s writing her dissertation on that. It is very exiting. There is no definition of core courses for Islamic studies programs. Should a course on Qur’an and hadith be a core course? The first year I spent one week on these and later three weeks. Now I am on sabbatical and the Qur’an and hadith will not be studied.

Mattson: The opposition claims that the development of such curricula is part of the decline of the study of Western civilization—that we are teaching Toni Morrison instead of William Faulkner. Once a professor has tenure he can do whatever he wants in course development, but adjunct professors and occasional lecturers at small and community colleges want to teach a course in Islam but are busy and would be happy to find an accessible useful well-proven course that is already designed. Such course should be easily searchable and findable on the Internet. Universities and college courses cannot make up for deficiencies in the Islamic community. We still do not have good curricula for the study of Islam at Muslim high schools. If someone only knows Islam through something important to them, like Islamic art, I would be happy; but I do agree that someone should not be able to get a major or minor in Islamic studies without some familiarity with the scriptures. Daniel Pipes’ article on National Review online is important for us to read. Understanding where he wants to see Islamic studies go can better help us to understand the gaps in our own thinking. Graham Fuller’s book, A World Without Islam is essential reading. Graham’s point that without Islam the West’s problem with the Muslim world would be identical, that imperialism is the issue and Islam only comes into play as a legitimization of resistance. Pipes places responsibility for the change in Islamic studies not so much on Said’s insights as on the leftward turn of universities. I want students of Islam at the university level to have a sound factual basis, and we must be cautious to avoid a normative approach. When I was at the University of Chicago you could only study Islam thorough area studies, but that has changed. A divinity or theology school program is different; they study religion as such. That is where they take religious experience seriously and where they engage texts. There is a difference between an apologetic work and a study of what people say about themselves. Pipes is proud of the movement to deny tenure to what he calls “radical Middle East specialists.” It is not hard to find where the books Pipes recommends have been discredited.

Ayoub: Diversity in the study of Islam is not something necessarily bad. Area studies, a German invention, takes the study of something like Islam, for instance, in a Hindu context and makes it look out of place. We have made progress in studying how Islam works on its own terms in the contexts of different civilizations, like South Asia, or Europe, or America. The first institute of Islamic studies was established by my professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith at Magill University. Very early on, when Ismail Faruqi and Ahmad Sakr were working on establishing the Islamic College, I opposed that and advocated creating chairs of Islamic studies, which IIIT has been doing. I think now we need to do what the Jewish community has done and establish programs in Islamic studies like what we do at the Hartford Seminary that treats Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations as a single program. Last year we started the imam education program, an interesting pilot project, done with IIIT, that should be expanded. Imams with no academic background can use the certificate to their advantage in interfaith dialog, while for those with academic credentials, the certificate may count towards credit for an M.A in Islamic studies.

General Discussion:

Kenneth Honerkamp: University of Virginia (?) has a curriculum online that may be helpful. We need to offer and encourage the offering of scholarships for Islamic studies and encourage parents to encourage their children to enter the field. There need not be a huge difference between a Muslim and a non-Muslim teaching Islam. I don’t tell students my affiliation until the end of the course, and they usually guess that I am a Christian.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad: I notice Pipes doesn’t disclose his connection to Campus Watch. Imagine how he would jump on a Muslim who made no such disclosure in an analogous article.

M. Ahmad: If you are assigned to teach Islam 101 the university will not dictate the content. You are free to teach it as you wish. In our survey we found a wide variety of approaches and emphases. Islam is taught at many universities, esp., the Ivy Leagues, as a part of world civilization core curriculum courses. Hodgson’s Venture of Islam came out of his notes for the Islam part of his world civilization course at University of Chicago. I am concerned about the time devoted to Pipes when he has never been taken seriously by any university.

Mattson: He has more influence at American universities than any person in this room.

M. Ahmad: He has a nuisance value. We have not discussed the role of Muslims in Islamic study in the U.S. of Fazlur Rahman, Ismail Faruqi and S.H. Nasr,the founders of thee broad categories of Islamic thought in the U.S. The contributions of Mahmoud Ayoub, Abdul Aziz Sachedina, and other younger scholars need to be acknowledged. Qasim Zaman moved from assistant professor to full professor at Princeton in a few years and I believe his contribution will prove enormous. We are seeing more and more books by Muslim scholars in the U.S.

Sarah Albrecht: We have hardly any Muslim scholars teaching at schools in Germany. In October this year they will start teaching Islamic theology in three different universities by Muslim teachers for the first time, and it has spawned a huge debate over credibility.

Mattson: In the U.S. divinity schools teach normative theology, but they have become increasingly secular. The most vital Christian denominations are leaving those courses to the seminaries.

M. Ahmad: There is a long list of scholars scholars at universities in Germany.

Albrecht: Many of them are not teaching.

M. Ahmad: After Weber’s Sociology of Religion came out, much German scholarship incorporated insights from sociological theory and, in my opinion, is ahead of the U.S. in such respects. German scholarship has changed and is now a fine blend of classical scholarship, field research, and archival research.

Dale Corre: I agree with Sarah Albrecht’s point and those scholars Dr. Ahmad mentions have no impact here. Archival study is not lacking in America.

Azur Hussain (International Center of Religion and Diplomacy): I work very closely with the State Dept. on public diplomacy, and university scholars think the madrassah leaders know nothing and vice versa; and the politicians in Pakistan think nobody knows anything. The policy leaders decide what their policy is and then seek scholars to support that.

Abubaker al-Shingieti: It seems that Islamic studies as practiced in the U.S. today is a field but not a discipline, like other interdisciplinary fields including my own, communication. Ulum al Qur’an, Ulum al hadith, however are well established disciplines.

I. Ahmad: Daniel Pipes is effective because of his ability to promote his ideas, something we have yet to cultivate.

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

Is There an Islamic Bioethics?

Thursday, August 18th, 2011


[This is the eighth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on iftaa and fatwa held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference and represents my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Moderator: Hisham Altalib
“Is There an Islamic Bioethics?”
Abdulaziz Sachedina, Prof of Islamic Studies, University of Virginia

It is appropriate to ask how iftaa works out in a new field like ethics, which has been regarded as a totally secular field of inquiry. The hospital culture is generally regarded as a secular culture, in which ethical norms are totally derived from human reason and experience, a practical ethics. Virtue ethics is the foundation of all ethics, but ethics here means that practical reasoning that leads to a conclusion about the rightness or wrongness of the decisions we pursue. It is quite relative, because each decision is made case by case, albeit pursued according to values absolute in a given culture. Our concern is the answer to the question: What is the justification for me to do what I am doing? This is the course of action followed by the fuquha themselves. Why am I making the decision the way I am making it (fiqh al istighlâli)? Western secular bioethics are being taught in Muslim hospitals and clinics, although they are interested in the fatwa. When the patient’s family mentions a fatwa, however, the doctors listen but they make the decision themselves as there is no patient empowerment. In the Western setting bioethics is about patient empowerment. A fatwa might influence a decision, but is not necessarily part of the process.

They have translated Western bioethics into Arabic and Persian, etc. Our students are taught the four principles of bioethics taught in the West including autonomy, which has little meaning in the communitarian context of the Muslim culture. In the U.S. there was a public uproar against the authoritarian medical profession that led to patient empowerment. My effort has been to seek what makes bioethics Islamic. My foundation is the religious goals of Islam. I think we must know our texts very well, so when we argue with the ulama we can show we are not strangers to the texts. The role of the fitra is that blind acceptance is not accepted. The self must reflect the divine nature. The fatawa is the raw material that must be developed into bioethics. Declaring this is haram and this is halal is not sufficient. The physician must understand why, so this is empowerment of the physician as well as the patient, because clinical situations are very complicated. I am talking about freedom of human action. The ulama must be knowledgeable in certain medical issues before they can make a decision, lest they make such erroneous decisions as accepting third-party donation of semen, because they do not understand the genetic issues. This leads to a plurality of fatwas and morality has been kept out of the fatwa-giving process.

Let’s move to an important question of Shariah in the sense of revealed law, or at least informed by the revealed law. The fuquha don’t know the subject being spoken about, so we have no experts in ethics. They confuse bioethics for medical jurisprudence. Hukm or fatwa applies a paradigmatic case to a particular minor premise: e.g., a male is staffing the emergency room when a female patient arrives. The fatwa is not the final word.

Practical decision-making is similar but different. We search for precedents that provide a general warrant (`asl). The present case provides particular facts (far’) for a provisional conclusion with a possible revision through further research and information. It is not to provide hukm, but to provide a recommendation rather than a final decision, e.g., the trauma of a woman made pregnant by rape. In the classical rulings the harm of the pregnancy was not recognized because it was psychological rather than tangible and therefore it was not among the abortion exceptions, whereas now it is permitted within the first fourteen days at the choice of the woman. The problem of iftaa is that it provides a ruling but no moral reasoning behind the decision. We don’t have a tradition of bioethics committees in the Muslim world. To develop Islamic bioethics we need a new tradition which gives not only a ruling, but the moral reasoning behind it.

Is a zygote potentially a human being?  Why do we have progressive diyât (compensating fines) if we do not recognize the potentiality of the embryo? There is no definition of a fetus in the Qur’an, nor in the entire fiqh. The idea that ensoulment begins after 120 days comes from the hadith. There is new information about when life begins. Similarly with the end of life, the fiqh takes no account of the potential for life extension with modern technology.

Sayuti says life begins when the fetus is moving, and there are other definitions, but we need to expand what they have said. La dhara, la dharar: no harm, no harassment [in Islam]. If I know a medicine does not work for me, the hospital should not force me to take it. If I have the right to reject a doctor’s advice to fast or not to fast, I should have the same choice elsewhere. There is no concept of rijdân (conscience) in fiqh.

The connection between reason and revelation is the bridge created by the usûl. There are many issues about which the sources are silent, like the definition of the fetus.

Dharûra (necessity) is often abused. It is based on the Qur’anic command that there be no difficulty in religion. The question in the fiqh is not framed as “Are you taking a human life?” If it were, the rules would be quite different.

In the case of in vitriol fertilization (IVF), the problems connected with not having a child, women are invariably blamed. The breastfeeding decision shows the disjunction between reason and revelation. Reason needs to humble itself, but revelation is also subject to interpretation. Plurality of wives opens the door to surrogate motherhood, but third party sperm donation is analogous to adultery.

The fuquha have not engaged on the ethical principles and that has left us out of the discussion.

Discussant: Ebrahim Moosa

I am struggling very hard to find a problem with our presentation. You raise the issue of Shaikh Atia’s breast-feeding fatwa, but he doesn’t understand human biology. Women don’t lactate all the time. I find the move is away from the deontological discussion to an ethical discussion. The inquirer should not be treated as a child. The Qur’an and Sunnah is supposed to push us forward, but instead we are always looking backward, so we are held back. We are anxious about the Qur’an and the Prophet. Tawsia rather than hukm, recommendation rather than judgment pushes the patient into a morally autonomous zone.  Our patient needs resources to make that decision. Doesn’t it require patient literacy? You gave examples from the traditional fiqh on the necessity of the individual to make the decision. Al-Ghazali requires that the individual must have minimal knowledge, even if it is just to know who is the more informed faqih.

You introduced an important point about conscientious decision-making. This could be a real opening as to what kind of literacy is required. Also clarify individual vs. communitarian decision-making. The traditional fiqh is based on an understanding of relationships that informs inheritance and kinship relationships, etc. The anxiety in Muslim circles is that the traditional kinship model will be reduced to the genetic model. When technology reveals new dimensions of the body and the self, what does that do to the traditional model? I can empathize with the permissibility of sperm donation because adultery is an impermissible physical act.

Sachedina: There is a tension in how Muslims define relationships. Communitarian ethics is not the only way to define Islamic ethics. I only say that relationships are very important and autonomy assumes a position below the communal concerns. The role of conscience is important in a way the iftaa has not given it attention. It is an empowerment of the individual that has not taken place in the Muslim world. The Qur’an is not only iconoclastic but also against he claims of special position by certain people, but in the culture that is not the case there is the desire to give others the decision.

Discussant: Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad

It is the fundamentals of the consideration of ethics in iftaa, rather than bioethics per se, that is at the heart of this talk. Understood this way I agree with its thrust. Like you I am a chaplain at a hospital, in my case at an Adventist Hospital, which emphasizes the spiritual as well as the material aspects of healing. Shariah is more than just the revealed law. We know it means “path.” This is because the Shariah, like the path to the well, is divine given and man’s job is not to invent it but to discover it.

Qur’an does identify the time of personhood (ensoulment) if you taken two different passages together. In one passage it says that the time of full dependency of a child on its mother is 30 months, and elsewhere it says the full term of weaning is 24 months.  It is reason that offers no clear answer to the question of personhood. Simple arithmetic says there are an additional 6 months apart from the time of breast-feeding covered by the term of full dependency. If this six months follows weaning, then I have no idea what it means. However, if it precedes weaning, then it implies that the fetus is a person during the last six months of pregnancy. Then in the first three months it is not a person. There is a disagreement between the hadith that says ensoulment takes place after 120 days rather than 90 days, but that is not a problem for me as I always prefer the Qur’an over the hadith. When you try to obtain a purely rational or a purely scientific answer to the question that things get messy. Many atheists concerned over abortion have tried to define when personhood begins and their answers diverge all over the place: at conception, at birth, when the heart is audible, when brain waves appear, etc. They are trying to obtain physical answer to what is a metaphysical question.

I question the statement that argument of permission by necessity is based on the prohibition of difficulty in religion. I think it is based on multiple citations in the Qur’an giving explicit consent to eating otherwise haram food on the grounds of necessity (2:173, 6:119, 6:145, 16:115).

The argument that a female can sidestep the problem of being in the physical presence of an adult male co-worker by suckling him is not an example of the contradiction between reason and revelation so much as of poor reasoning. The hadith on which it is based (e.g., Sahih Muslim #3427), as you imply, should be dismissed on the moral weakness of the text.

On the question of whether physical copulation is necessary for adultery, I think we must remember that adultery comes from the root of adulteration, meaning of the “bloodline.” Substituting genes for blood does not alter the principle. I am not saying sperm donation is necessarily evil, I am only saying we should approach it the same way we approach adoption, of which it seems to be a variety.

I would like to apply your point on the difficulties caused by an absence of moral explanation more broadly. Where the Qur’an gives no reasons is where the problems become the most difficult, e.g., the distinction between riba and trade, and the restrictions on beating a woman.

General Discussion:

Ayoub: I wonder what Khamenie did with the Qur’an and a hadith when he allowed a third party sperm donation: The verse “Know them by their fathers” and the hadith “the child belongs to the marriage bed.”  Kinship is through rahm (the womb) not the blood.

Jourdan Hussein: Are we in Indonesia unrestrained by the four madhhabs because we are a different culture?

Sami Ayoub: You said the fuquha did not consider psychological harm, but is not a false accusation of adultery an example of psychological harm? Khaled Abul Fadl says that law and ethics do not always correlate. What is your view? It has been argued that the Mutazilites and the early Asharis started with deontological ethics and shifted to consequentialist ethics.

Mujiburrahman: I helped translate a book by Abdul-Fadl Ibrahim on animal organ transplantation and others issues ten years ago. What are your views?

Sachedina: Khamenie’s fatwa was rescinded by himself in the next edition. I think senior mujtahids must have drawn his attention to his error. He often has a committee sits with him and advises him on iftaa. Khamenie was politically promoted; his scholarship is managed by others. The senior mujtahidîn disagreed with him on this issue. A Ph.D. student of mine has completed a dissertation on fertility clinics in Iran, and the senior (first tier) ulama have not agreed. Khamenie is in the third tier.

M. Ayoub: What happens to those who followed his first edition?

Sachedina: Slander is a public crime, but rape, which is a trauma, was not necessarily recognized as a public crime, until Bosnia. There rape was used as a weapon of war. Imam Khomeini has declared rape a harm permitting abortion in the first thirteen days, but others disagree. I think our criticism is introducing the subject of moral reasoning into the fiqh.

Most Mu`tazila accepted the deonotological, but the Asharis did not because they think only God knows good and evil. The medical community respects the chaplains, but the ultimate decision is made by the ethics committee in the hospital. Our influence depends on how much faith they have in us.

As for rethinking the fiqh in a cultural context, fiqh means to understand. I think fiqh as an activity is different from the Shariah. It is a growing body of knowledge, and the fiqh will be different according to culture.

Anwar Haddam: I am trying to clarify hukm and tawsiyya. I believe morality has always been there, but there has been a lack of understanding the issues.

Dawood Nassimi: The fitra is not sufficient; we need revelation. The texts have many references to conscience. The Qur’an emphasizes imân more than ihkâm, because once you have submitted Allah’s guidance is sufficient for you.

Honerkamp: In rural areas of Morocco I’ve seen women nursing their infants by the side of the road and no one is shocked or even surprised. I don’t think our current Puritanism was the norm when the ahkâm was established. Giving an illegitimate child the name of ibn abîhî (“child of his father”) today would mark a child for life. We have to find maslaha for the individual because we know the blame for the illegitimate child is not upon him.

Adam Shaikh: Even in the time of the Prophet (saws) we find people who differed in the interpretation of the Qur’an al Hadith, such as the people who were told to pray when they reached the Bani Quraiza. Umar ibn Khatab suspended the hadd of theft to much controversy. The stages of the fetus are mentioned in the Qur’an and I like what al-Ghazali said, that life starts at fertilization and is like the contract of buying or selling so that destroying the embryo at any of the three stages has its penalty of a named monetary amount: `arsh = 10 dinar, or double or triple. There is also the question of who dies first and who dies second as regards taxing inheritance.

Sachedina: What I have understood is there is an enforcing body for hukm, but the mufti is dependent on the one who follows him. Khamenie’s fatwa (which was requested by doctors) was not adopted by the government. Akhlâq or morality is essentially intertwined with fiqh. The language of the Prophet was alkhlâq, but that was before you had an Islamic state. Conscientious objection is not developed in the fiqh. For me, usûl al fiqh is ethical. Al wahy awla min al `aql. There is clearly a link, but it is not well developed. I am not saying all Muslim jurists ignore ethics.

The early sahâba saw the Qur’an as the Prophet and the Prophet as the Qur’an because it was not there in a manuscript form, so imân in the Qur’an required submission to the Prophet. Today it is a struggle to keep the two together.

Our fuquha said when the identity of the father is not known he must be known by the mother’s name specifically to avoid such stigma. People who were called ibn abîhî or such were being insulted, sometimes for political reasons.

We are teaching the wasiyya (Islamic will) today.

Sarah Albrecht: You contrasted the Western focus on the individual with the Muslim focus on the individual as part of a family or community. How does this affect the Muslim immigrant?

Sachedina: It was my colleagues who emphasized autonomy, which prompted me to ask why is the opinion of the individual more important than that of the family? Sometimes the illness is such that the person is not able to make that decision and we empower the family to make the decision. When I needed a stent in Iran, the doctors would not accept my approval without consulting with my family.

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

News and Analysis (8/18/11)

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

“The push into Latakia ordered by commanders this week was stridently criticised by other nations in the region, with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia and Qatar withdrawing their ambassadors and Turkey warning it had uttered its ‘last words” on the crackdown'”:

The Nobel Prize winning chemist’s dream of  “a $2 billion science and technology institute in Cairo” was “mired in a jungle of bureaucracy and corruption” under Mubarak, but “with revolution now sweeping the Middle East, Egypt’s ruling military council and interim civilian government gave the project the green light in June”:

The Arab Oprah? “With humor and down-home savings, Mahmoud has done it all with ease, becoming an unlikely symbol of a movement aimed at preserving the spirit of change and social justice in this country of more than 80 million people”:

“Rachid Nekkaz said he personally is not in favour of women wearing the full veil, but feels the bans are unconstitutional and will pay the fines of all those prosecuted”:

“[F]orcing people to [fast], worse, punishing them if they fail to oblige, is only going to discourage people from taking Islamic teachings more seriously” — Dr Khalid Zaheer, religious scholar and dean of the faculty of arts and social sciences of the University of Central Punjab:

“A local man said the breakthrough came when NATO bombed a military training facility in the center of Sabratha. After that strike, the rebels stormed the facility and seized weapons”:

“Israel Radio reported that the militants were dressed in Egyptian uniforms, and fired on a bus and cars from across the border” …

… yet Israel takes it as an excuse to step up their almost daily attacks on Gaza:


Iftaa in an Age of Diversity, Religious Pluralism and Democracy

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011


[This is the seventh in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on iftaa and fatwa held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference and represents my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Moderator: Jamal Barzinji
“Iftaa in an Age of Diversity, Religious Pluralism and Democracy”
Ebrahim Moosa, Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University

When I got out of madrassah I thought everything I have learned will not help me in the world until I read Fazlur Rahman, who put together what rang a bell with me in a way the re-enchanted me with Islamic thought. I went to Chicago to meet him and was met at the airport by Mazen Hashem. After 24 years he picked me up again at the airport last night.

How do we understand the issues of religious pluralism and diversity? I want to discuss the development of norms. Cultural diversity is obvious, but more important there is intra-Muslim diversity, beyond Sunni-Shia diversity, even a spectrum of traditional opinions. Consider Yusuf Qaradawi, Muhammad Fadlallah, the Islamic revivalists, the Islamic social movement tradition, non-classical scripturalists, modernists, etc. Iftaa was always outsourced to the Muslim traditionalists of one sort or another, with the result that that authority privileges its own normative tradition as the only normative tradition and the most opposed to diversity, or it tolerates diversity, but without integrity. There are activistist jurists like Qaradawi, but by and large they work from a canonical tradition. They recognize no audience but their own. If they do not attain credibility within their own constituency, they are toast.  We invoke religious pluralism in order to elicit toleration for one another. Certain kinds of freedom are critical to the democratic order, in some sense a liberal political order. In pre-modern times normative traditions, the life world, shaped the political world. In the modern world the political world shapes the life world.

The universe of iftaa is steeped in an illiberal order, by which I mean freedom is not a high priority. Those who argue otherwise are taking shortcuts with history. Umar was not a liberal. Umar had sensibilities of fairness, justice and rights, but to call him a liberal shows an unclear methodology. The tradition is an illiberal order in which obligations trump claims, although obligations reciprocate claims. Also status questions filter into the fiqh, as in, for example, marriage law. It takes a lot of work to rethink those categories and move them from an obsolete ontology to a new ontology for the modern world. When someone says men and women are equal with some minor modifications—for example, saying that education of women is obligatory, that is a major normative transformation. Thus, I respectfully disagree with people like S. H. Nasr who accept the static ontology of Mulla Sadra. Ontologies mutate and transform themselves.

The modern world we live in is one of rights. In the West people looked to a rational consensus on what is the best way of life, but they could not find a single answer to that question, and it is thrown into question on a global scale repeatedly. Those who trumpet liberalism as the only right way overlook the fact that even if liberalism is the best way, there are other ways that develop. I ask do we have a moral consensus on critical issues or can we map where we are heading on these issues—for example women’s rights? The hermeneutical, interpretative package in which the classical schools worked did not go back to the Qur’anic text, but built their modifications within the framework of their own schools. The Muslim canonical schools committed suicide at least 200 years ago and the salafi methodology of going back to the Qur’an and hadith has replaced it.

We have two schools within liberalism: John Locke and Immanual Kant on one side, who exemplified the liberal project of a universal regime. Locke defends toleration because it permits discovering the best mode of life. Hobbes and Hume, on the other hand, are the advocates of a liberalism of coexistence. Rawls and Hayek are the heirs of the universal regime and Isaiah Berlin and Michael Oakshot of the modus vivendi.

A rational inquiry into ethics yields no consensus on the best of life but provides a realization that humanity is too diverse to fall into a single way of life and encourages multiple ways of human flourishing. I favor the modus vivendi that promotes multiple ways of life, but makes no claim that they are commensurably valuable, but they are differently valuable. This is value pluralism that admits each side has moral knowledge and there are multiple solutions to conflicts.

The fatwa has become the moral and ethical face of Islam, but Muslims seem to be unaware that when they signed the human rights charter they were not just signing onto a set of rights, but onto the liberal project. Limiting by the Shariah raises the question of what is the Shariah? Consider the Rushdie affair. Khomeini was watching the killing of the demonstrators in Mumbai and asked why Muslims were being killed. He was told an Indian writer wrote ugly things about companions of the Prophet. He merely recapped the traditional position, but after an institution offered a reward for Rushdi’s death, the word “fatwa” has taken on the meaning of edict, or even worse, death penalty. Ghanouchi said Khomeini did us a great disservice. We all know that a fatwa should not be given without knowing the context, but not enough attention has been paid to the audience that shall receive the fatwa. The hukm al qâdî is confined to a particular case. Because we tend to think of the fatwa as directed to the questioner, we forget that the opinion of the mufti has a life beyond the questioner and must be attuned to all the audiences that will receive it and tailored to all those audiences. I think if Khomeini had given more careful thought to the consequences of his fatwa, he might not have made it. The suggestions some of you are making for collectivizing fatwas might provide the necessary filters.

Some will object: shall we change the hukm Allah for the audience? You can say all ahkâm are based on `urf and maslaha, and change with time and place, or you can distinguish between those that are and devotional commands, which could be applied to ibâdat. But what if the ibâdat results in stampedes and death at Mecca? Those must change too. Well, we can excuse them by necessity, but I say we must always consider `urf and maslaha in the reception of a fatwa.

The question of science is a major hurdle in the reception of fatwas, but common sense is an even bigger one. The view that common sense should not be considered makes fatawa unintelligible. Loudspeakers were once rejected for the call to prayer. Today hardcore Deobandi circles that rejected photography on grounds that shadows were involved now accept digital photography because no shadows are involved. Said Ahmad Palanpuri threw me out of his office when he thought an audience that would disapprove of videography would be aware of it—even though his board meetings are always videorecorded.

Look at the whole range of organ transplantation. For some, sharing organs undermine human dignity. (Paul Ramsey has said the same in the West.) Al-Azhar says it is permissible. The pioneer of kidney transplantations in Egypt has stopped doing them because Ali Gomaa is unclear about the issue of brain death. There can be multiple ways of life but there must be a discourse to make them intelligible.

I asked about genetically modified food and I received a fatwa that it is permitted unless there is harm to human beings. This showed no deep knowledge of the scientific issues.

A variety of temperaments, political, personal, cultural, etc. influence how the mufti selected his precedents. Beyond temperaments and audience there is a need to expand the epistemological framework. We need a robust knowledge of tradition and an updating of the epistemological framework so we inhabit the real world. Then we need not be embarrassed by fatwas like Izzat Atiya’s breast-feeding fatwa (that male and female co-wrokers are permitted if the man suckles at the woman’s breast). This is fiqh-l-`âqalîyyah, which is reform by stealth, because jurists avoid the hard questions. Then there are the Kuwaiti mufti’s rules of wife-beating. Mahmoud Zakzouk said in the future fatwas have to be consistent with logic and human nature, but we see sincere and well-meaning clerics totally unaware that they are propagating a moral wrong. They are a minority, but they are the ones who capture the headlines and sully our image. These fatwas are the pathological signs of what is deeply absent: the act of re-visioning the moral framework of our tradition, the lack of moral consensus and resources t rebuild those foundations. You can tell me the ayatollahs are reading Heidigger and Kant in Qom, but if they are only reading for apologetics and not gaining insights, we are in trouble.

Discussant: Dr. Mazen Hashem

I feel we live in a time when the fatwa has been inflated over its previous status because of fatawa on radio and fatawa on line. I am enraged by the confusion between Shariah, fiqh, fatwa and the qadi. Maqâsid ash-shariah gives us more space for the understanding of issues. These basic distinctions are absent from our minds when we translate maqâsid ash shari`ah as the goals of Islamic law. Shariah is not Islamic law. The institutionalization of iftaa robs it of its dynamism. Institutions have their own priorities. Our muftis are parts of institutions and those institutions are sponsored by regimes. The catholic model of iftaa is the consequence of the liberal order seeking to move iftaa to serve Western industrialism. Muslims rejected the breast-feeding fatwa out of their common sense.

Discussant: Prof Abdul Aziz Sachedina

We Muslims in the West have a fatwa consciousness that you do not find in the Muslim world, where they are usually individual and only shared with others with a specific interest in it. The nearest thing to a collective inquiry comes from the government, where it is regional. I asked Ayatullah Khui about the controversy over the fact that men could be seen from the women’s section in the Toronto mosque and he said are you asking about Toronto or Najaf? The fatwa that it is permissible and should not be used as an excuse to prevent women for attending the masjid was rejected by the people of Toronto. The ulama here are much more narrow-minded than their mentors in their home countries. We need to change not only how it is propagated in that part of the world, but how it is received here. In the Shia community have three different Eid dates because they have three different definitions of the new moon.  It is not just a crisis of epistemology but of purpose. What are we supposed to achieve? When we lose the sense of right and wrong, then we get the fatwas like the breast milk fatwa. The larger moral picture is absent.

Mahmoud Ayoub: The community in Toronto asked me to take questions to Ayatollah Khui. I translated the questions and answers and the head of the community said they would translate the answers, but the night before they were to distribute them they said no one is going to change our customs not even Ayatullah Khui. Very often our practice, especially family law, depends more on custom than Qur’an or sunnah or fatwas. The West has made its peace with secularism and we have not. We can question the suckling of the adult as ridiculous, but what can do about the word of God on chastising a wife? We have to find a way to keep our authenticity. We need not create movies like “The Last Temptation of Christ” or “The Passion of the Christ.” We and the orthodox Jews are the last two communities trying to live our lives in a way that meets the demands of the faith. I am not trying to be conservative, I am only confused.

Ebrahim Moosa: I am struck by Umar saying if I were not afraid of people saying Umar changed the Qur’an I would have placed the verse of rajm (stoning for adultery) in it. We are not worshippers of Qur’an but worshippers of Allah. The test is there to free you.  As the world around us changes this world around us changes.  The polarity of stability verses dynamic is false. Maybe the meaning of fatwa has changed and we call moral learning fatwa. Not every verse of the Qur’an is actionable.

General Discussion

Imam Mohammed Majid: As a practitioner I face the problem of closing the gap between the theory of Prof. Moosa and the reality on the ground. People ask their questions not as an academic exercise but in the desire of pleasing God. There is a lack of understanding of the tradition before we engage in critique. There were arguments even among the companions, such as the hadith from Aisha regarding breast-feeding that the other wives refused to accept. Sometimes we look at Islam from the Western context, but there is more than one reality and value system. We need to discuss fiqh al mu`amalât: What are the consequences of any fatwa or discourse.

Kenneth Honerkamp: I am a fortunate person in that I spent ten years in the madrassas of Pakistan 1969-79. It seems to me the baby was thrown out with the bathwater 50 or 60 years ago, I speak of ahlâq (morals) and adâb (manners). Certain epistemological categories discredited in the modern world have been preserved for us to fill the void in Islamic legal discourse. The immigrant community is more conservative than we converts. When al-Ghazali wrote Ihyâ Ulûm ad-Dîn, he meant Ihyâ Ulûm ad-Dîn.

Moustafa Kassim: To have a rational discourse don’t you need to start from common premises? Does a fatwa imply a new situation? Do you include the Bahraini shaikh as giving a fatwa or explaining something in the Qur’an? We need to talk about education that will prepare people to understand the text.

Moosa: We are in different places and so we hear differently. I do believe I am in touch with communities, but there are a number of young people in universities and colleges who are thinking along these lines, and you need to be aware of this. Everything is studied in our university and three audiences don’t tap into that knowledge: American Muslims, the American public, and the American government. The ghaibi (transcendental) dimension is important, but today’s discussion is about the discursive dimension, so why bring up the ghaib? We mustn’t sound apologetic when we defend the turâth (heritage). What if the other wives didn’t disagree with Aisha? It seems like everything must bespoken from the grave. If the turâth has no answer, it’s our job to devise one. We need to avoid the East-West canard. If the people in the East are suspicious of us, let them be.

The question of how do we translate the teachings of tusawaf into teaching of moral ethics is an important one, but we have to deal with it innovatively. I hold Muslim traditionalists responsible for failing to deal with colonialism in a better way than just building walls and changing Islam from a robust knowledge tradition into a static religion out of fear that knowledge of the West will convert us into Westerners. When we cannot agree on the best way of life because we don’t have rational means for that, we must tolerate our differences. The Bahraini explanation was dars rather than fatwa, but when you are television you are doing both. Moral philosophy comes out of the secular tradition, but we should not be governed by anxiety. Ataturk did violence to Turkey, but by coercively changing the ontology to a secular mode he benefited the Islamists. I am not saying or that Pakistan should do the same or that he did something good, but that the damage may be fixed.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad: The significance of the classical era for liberalism is not its liberalism or illiberalism but its notion of rule of law on which liberalism is built. I am not enraged by the translation of Shariah as Islamic law, even though I agree it requires explanation. Of the two kinds of liberalism, they are united in the work of Robert Nozick (Anarchy, State, and Utopia). Common sense of Muslims have rejected fatwas many times in the past: remember the fatwa against coffee? Sachedina’s point about the receivers being a bigger problem than the propagators is valid, and fear of their local audience explains why the local propagators may be more inflexible than the distant ones. The charge that by listing rules limiting the beating of women, the Kuwaiti shaikh is implying that there is a scriptural requirement to beat women is unfair. Instead we could criticize him for not going far enough in turning the limitations into a prohibition. The fear that “knowledge of the West will convert us into Westerners” ignores the fact that we can be Westerners and Muslims at the same time.

Maghfira Dahlan-Taylor: Are you trying to argue that what we understand to be Islamic values should be available to scrutiny by non-Muslims?

Daoud Nassimi: If our standards do not come from the Book of Allah, from where do they come?

Adam El Shaikh: The more I listened to these speakers the more I appreciate mentor Hasan at-Turabi who insisted I should come to the West. I was raised in an anti-Western community, so I did not understand his urging that I study in Europe or preferably in the U.S. Everything in this world has good aspects and bad aspects. We should be the ummat-al-wasat (the Middle Community) and take from both sides.

Sami Ayoub: How are we to create this new ontology? Is the nation-state a good or bad thing? What is the Qur’anic verse to which Dr. Ayoub referred?

Alexandre Caiero: Do you see any role for the fatwa at all in the new ontology? To be fair, Qaradawi acknowledges a role for temperament in the issuing of fatwas, although his discussion falls short because he wants to maintain the fiction that the fatwa is nonsectarian, outside politics. To what extent is that fatwa still viable?

Moosa: You can’t find a single definition of Shariah. Some say it is the text, some say it is the abstract principles behind the text. The Qur’an calls it a path, which seems more open to the moral and ontological approach. If one views the process of iftaa as definitive, then that is the end of any conversation and we cannot do more than tinker around the edges. We are stuck in a pattern culturally adapted to seventh century Medina and Mecca. But our predecessors adapted in to a wide variety of times and places; so I think a lot more conversation is required. You have to have an eye on history but you cannot reject the present. Discursive tradition is always a living tradition. I have no inferiority complex; I am a Western man. Those who say the good Muslim is the Eastern Muslim are the ones with the inferiority complex. They say without ghaira (zeal) you are bad Muslim. Ghaira brought us suicide bombings. These terms are problematic. You don’t create ontologies; we live them already. I know the liberal world is incomplete, but I am not one of those who benefit from the Western world but despise it. Is there a place for fatwa? I think to be a faqih you need a fairly deep basic understanding of science, politics, and economics, and have opinions on it. We need to be aware of these temperaments and filters we have. That Muslim values must be intelligible to everybody else is the heart of my talk. We must have the language to intellectually debate them and no fear to do so.

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

News and Analysis (8/17/11)

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

The “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a force of around 700 security personnel fanned across al-Raml, with houses being demolished in the neighborhood “on the pretext they lacked construction permits”:

China calls the Financial Times report “baseless and preposterous”:

The “proposed referendum would ask whether the tiny island nation’s government should be elected or remain appointed by the leaders”

“Libyan rebels, who are battling Qaddafi’s forces for control of the country’s last functioning oil refinery, say they’ll be in Tripoli by the end of August”:

“The 47-page indictment does not explicitly state how any of the accused, Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Assad Sabra, or Hussein Oneissi, were linked to the [phone] networks”:

“We are extremely distressed to know that over 10,000 people received military rules against them in the past six month and we demand that they get re-tried in front a civil court” — Mahmoud Ezzat, Deputy MB head: