There are those within conservative Islam who argue that women have no place when it comes to discussing or analyzing Islam; that’s men’s work. They may have custom on their side, but they don’t have history.
Saudi Gazette translates an article from the Arabic daily Al-Hayat in which the writer points out the actual historic role women have played in the intellectual sphere of Islam.
Ibn Hajr, a man tutored by women
Zainab Ghasib | Al-Hayat
While the rights of women are being violated and so-called scholars who pretend they are learned continue to belittle and distort the image of women, Islam has painted a colorful image of women since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and up until the last days of the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258).
Women began to be viewed with disrespect during the Ottoman times in which most rulers enjoyed numerous slave girls and mistresses. Nevertheless, even in that era there were many well-educated female scholars. During the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750) there lived a woman called Sakina Al-Hussain (may Allah be pleased with her). She held classes regularly at her home that were attended by poets, intellectuals and thinkers—people who wanted to learn from her. She judged poets and critiqued poems. More importantly, no thinker or scholar opposed her even though there were many great scholars around at that time.
There was another great woman named Wallada Al-Mostakfi who lived during the last days of the Umayyad Caliphs. She had also opened her home to scholars, thinkers and intellectuals who attended her sessions and learned from her.
Saudi Gazette reports that young Saudi women are not content to lead the kind of lives their mothers led. As a result, many are choosing to remain single into their 20s and 30s instead of being married and becoming mothers themselves in their teens. Not everyone is pleased.
JEDDAH — Amna Fatani knows she wants a brilliant career and a life different from that of Saudi women of her mother’s generation who married early, usually to a husband not of their own choosing.
The 27-year-old, studying for her master’s degree at Georgetown University in Washington and hoping to someday realize her ambitions, is part of a growing number of Saudi women choosing to remain single through their 20s and into their 30s as they pursue other ambitions.
The trend has ruffled conservatives who see it as an affront to the very foundations of the Kingdom, where rigid tribal codes have long dictated the terms of marriage.
“My friends and I have reached a point (where) we’re very specific about what we want,” she said. “I need someone who trusts that if I need to do something, I can make the decision to ask for help or choose to do it alone.”
Saudi women stand at the center of a societal pivot between the Kingdom’s push for greater women’s education and rights to work, and laws that give men final say over their lives.
In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat (here reprinted by Al Arabiya TV), Abdulrahman Al-Rashed points to Saudi Arabia’s long struggle with religious extremism (for certain values of “extreme”). He notes that just 17 years after the founding of the country, Saudi leaders had to resort to violence to put down a revolt by the Ikhwan, the tribal group that had militarily supported the cause of the Al-Saud, but which had now become a problem when it challenged the government over its policies.
From the Brotherhood of Sabilla to ISIS
The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda and similar groups are not really states the sense we understand. They are an idea of extremism that unites those who subscribe to it and those who support it in different forms, either with bullets, dollars, words or emotions. There are extremists who may be against taking up weapons, but they agree with violent groups on the ultimate idea and goal, even if they differ on the means to use.
Unlike what’s common in political analysis, extremism and extremists have always represented a threat to the Saudi Arabia. But this truth gets lost in a sea of accusations and the whole image is blurred even to the most well-informed people on the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular. This false historical understanding of the friend and the foe is no longer limited to foreigners and Arab propagandists. This false understanding has entered Saudi Arabia itself where some believe it and other extremists promote it. I think extremism is the biggest enemy and is the biggest threat to Saudi Arabia. This is why it’s in our interest to systematically, institutionally and continuously fight it.
In a thoughtful piece for Asharq Alawsat, Amir Taheri talks about how analyses of the Charlie-Hebdo incident that fall back on the “Clash of Civilizations” fail. He talks, too, about how democracy, while providing an apparent “soft target” for terrorism, is also the way to end it. It is not the democracy that is practiced in the West that will provide the cure, however. It is the democracy that must develop in Islamic nations that will end “terrorism in the name of Islam.”
Democracy is the answer to terrorism
By now you might feel that you have read all you need to about the events in Paris last week that triggered worldwide sympathy for a France absorbing the shock of terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, to discuss ways of fighting back against this latest form of terrorism we may still need to put the event in some context.
Looking for a shorthand analysis, some commentators branded the event as the latest example of the “clash of civilizations” foreseen by Samuel Huntington two decades ago. We are told that the assassination of cartoonists and the murder of Jewish shoppers showed Islam, as a civilization, challenging the Christian civilization, its rival for more than 15 centuries. There are at least two problems with that analysis.
The first is that Islam and Christianity, in their many varieties, are religions and can hardly be regarded as “civilizations.” There is a European civilization which has, in the name of the Enlightenment, progress, human rights, and more recently democracy, helped reshape the whole world. However, that civilization traces back its origins to ancient Greece and Rome. If anything, Christianity, once it had become the state religion under Emperor Constantine, tried to de-Europeanize the European civilization but ended up becoming one of its many ingredients.
On the Islamic side, one could speak of Arab, Iranian and Turkish civilizations, among many others, of which Islam is a major component. However, in every case, none could be understood with exclusive reference to Islam. The Arabs had developed several civilizations of their own, long before Islam appeared, as had the various Iranic and Turkic peoples. In the same way that reducing Chinese civilization to Buddhism or the Indian to Hinduism is reductive, suggesting that all 57 Muslim-majority nations belong to a single bloc at war against a Christian bloc is misleading.
The second problem with the “clash of civilizations” analysis is that even the various groups and countries that use Islam as a political ideology rather than a religion cannot be regarded as a monolithic bloc with a common strategy. We are already witnessing an inflation of pretensions towards Caliph-hood. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has its caliph just as the Taliban have their own Amir Al-Mu’mineen (Commander of the Faithful). Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have also named their respective caliphs. Iran has a “Supreme Guide” who claims to be the religious leader of all Muslims, while branches of Al-Qaeda have retained their own fatwa-issuing “sheikhs.”
In an article written for The Jordan Times, and here reprinted by Al Arabiya TV, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab notes that certain world leaders are all for free speech, at least while they’re abroad. At home, though, not so much. Speech is still censored in much of the Arab world, if not directly by government, then indirectly (through, for example, the withhold of subsidies or government subscriptions), or by the drawing of ‘red lines’ beyond which journalists self-censor.
Social media activists have filled cyberspace with comments and arguments justifying the presence of this or that leader at the gathering held in Paris in support of the people of France after the brutal killing, in two separate attacks on journalists, cartoonists, policemen and everyday shoppers in a Jewish supermarket.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was attacked for going to Paris while avoiding Gaza. Arab leaders were criticized for attending the French demonstration while not working to protect freedom of expression in their countries.
Arab leaders have many considerations, of course, when they make decisions such as last week’s. When a superpower like France calls for worldwide support, it is incumbent on world leaders to show solidarity by participating.
While all the major Islamic organizations condemned the attack on Charlie-Hebdo magazine, they seem to all be also condemning the magazine and its penchant to insult things many hold dear. Arab News reports on the backlash to the magazine’s most recent cover.
They’re missing the point.
Free speech is free: that is, it is not limited by government; it is not properly the target of vigilantes, no matter how righteous they think themselves. Further, there is no right to being free from insult, abuse, or hurt feelings.
Assume there is such a right. Who, then, draws the lines?
I am sure that Jews and Christians who are abused by sermons in mosques might take exception to the freedom given those imams. Are the imams to be shut down and jailed? In some countries, they would indeed face punishment at the hands of government, but those countries do not adhere to principles of free speech. Citing laws — bad laws — against “hate speech” or “blasphemy,” some countries do punish speech that hurts feelings. What they mean by “free speech” is “positive speech about things we all agree with.” That might work in a homogenous society where everyone thinks the same, or in bee hives and ant nests, but it’s both impossible and impractical to try and impose such a regime on human beings.
RIYADH/CAIRO: Iyad Madani, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, has denounced the publication of sacrilegious cartoons by French magazine Charlie Hebdo Wednesday, calling the move “insolence, ignorance and foolishness.”
He said: “Freedom of speech must not become a hate-speech and it must not offend others. No sane person, regardless of doctrine, religion or faith, accepts his beliefs being ridiculed.”
Prominent Saudi scholar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi said that publication of the latest image was a mistake. “It’s not a good way to make the people understand us. Jesus or Moses, all messengers (of God) we should respect,” and should not be made fun of in pictures or words, Ghamdi said. “I believe it will make more problems.”
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian lands, Mohammed Hussein, said such cartoons “fuel feelings of hatred and resentment among people” and publishing them “shows contempt” for Muslim feelings.
Let me be clear. I’m not picking on Muslims here. Even France, even after the slaughter at Charlie-Hebdo, doesn’t get what free speech means.
Following a snowstorm in northern Saudi Arabia, Saudis started posting pictures on the Internet. Among the pictures were those of snowmen and snowwomen they’d built. This led to a fatwa from a Saudi cleric who cautioned against the creation of images of living beings, something forbidden in Islam according to various hadith.
Well, that created its own storm, one where users of Twitter and other social media inquired whether snowmen were a pressing issue within Islam, whether clerics didn’t have more important work to do.
The sheikh backed off a bit, acknowledging that it might be okay for kids to play in the snow and, anyway, the snow will melt.
Scholar sparks controversy with edict on snowmen
Saudi Gazette report
DAMMAM — A controversial sheikh has issued an edict stating that building snowmen with clear facial features is a depiction of Allah’s creations and is forbidden in Islam, Al-Hayat reported.
With the Huda snowstorm hitting north of the Kingdom, many Saudis made the most of the rare weather and posted various videos and photos.
They include a video featuring a man giving directions to another to Berlin as if it was only an hour away.
The phenomenon also brought out the artistic skills of Saudis as many posted Photoshopped pictures of themselves among polar bears and penguins to give the illusion that Saudi Arabia was completely coated with snow.
In an opinion piece for Al Arabiya TV, Prince Turki Al-Faisal — former Saudi Ambassador to the US and UK as well as head of Saudi Intelligence — gives a review of the history of the rise of ISIS. He notes how the actions and inactions of several regional states all led to the growth of the group. He suggests that a better and more accurate name for the group would be Fahesh: “obscene.”
A New Name for ISIS
Pr. Turki Al-Faisal
When the international community decided to punish Al-Qaeda and the Taliban for the 9/11 attacks, a number of Al-Qaeda members fled to Iran. The Iranian authorities then sheltered these militants under the supervision of the intelligence service. Some of them included members of Osama Bin Laden’s family, as well as Saif Al-Adl, one of Al-Qaeda’s most senior military commanders and the man responsible for planning the attacks on Riyadh in May 2003, and Salih Al-Qar’awi, the leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Qar’awi later relocated to Waziristan in Pakistan where he was eventually killed by an American drone attack and his body flown back to Saudi Arabia from Pakistan.
Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the destruction of the Iraqi government, military and security institutions, Tehran allowed many of these individuals to enter neighboring Iraq, where they found fertile ground to carry out their schemes. Here, they re-grouped and rebranded under the new name, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and were also joined by militants coming from other countries, such as Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and Muhsin Al-Fadhli, the leader of the Khorasan Brigades. Fadhli, who comes from a prominent Shi’ite family in Kuwait, is believed to be responsible for the attack in Najaf that killed the senior Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir Al-Hakim. The Iranian government also allowed Fadhli to enter Syria shortly after the uprising there began.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad actually allowed the entry of many of these individuals through his country and its borders, where they eventually made their way into Iraq. In fact, and in what is the first twist in this story, former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki sought during his first term in office to submit an official complaint to the UN Security Council accusing Assad of supporting terrorist groups and allowing the passage of their members into Iraq. But Maliki never followed through on the accusation, leaving space for Al-Qaeda in Iraq to form in the country, where it eventually found strong resistance in the form of US forces and armed Sunni tribal coalitions. Many members of the group and its leadership were killed during these fierce battles, among them Zarqawi. Those who survived were thrown into American-run prisons in Iraq; but as soon as the US started pulling troops out of the country during Maliki’s first term, the men were released. Among them was Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, along with some of his close aides.
Writing in Arab News Saad Dosari finds himself in general agreement with the sentiments addressed by Abdulrahman Al-Rashed. Muslims need to take a serious look at how they’ve permitted terrorism in the name of Islam to grab hold and threaten individuals and groups around the world.
When words turn into bullets
What is more evil? To commit a crime or to back it through reasoning and justifications. I would argue that the crime itself is completed once the criminal act is over, you kill someone, he is dead, you blow up a checkpoint, the damage is done, it could lead to ramifications, but the act itself is already part of history. But when you reason and theorize any crime, you are actually preparing for a next wave of violence. You are keeping the evil concept of the crime alive, breeding more brutality and barbarity.
Last week, history repeated itself, another attack, new blood spilled, more lives lost in the name of Islam. Gunmen with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in the heart of Paris, blindly wounding and killing whomever happened to be on their way.
After all these years of terrorism in the name of religion, it is pointless to defend Islam from the massacres committed under its banners…
…For us Muslims everywhere in the world, we need to stop and revisit our culture and traditions, to go back to the pristine teachings of Islam. This religion has been sent to the world with nothing but mercy, why some of us are depriving it of its holiest message?
Commenting on remarks made by publisher Rupert Murdoch, Abdulrahman Al-Rashed agrees that it is the responsibility of Muslims to act against the “jihadist cancer” that is infecting the body of Muslim societies. It is Al-Rashed, in an editorial for Asharq Alawsat, here picked up by Al Arabiya TV, who identifies these extremists as “fascists,” noting how their actions and beliefs mirror those used by the fascist states of the early 20th C. “Equivocation and silence” no longer cut it in dealing with the problem, he says.
Murdoch: Muslims bear responsibility for terrorism
Protests against recent terrorist attacks in France should have been held in Muslim capitals and not in Paris because Muslims stand accused in this case; embroiled in this crisis and expected to declare their innocence. The tale of extremism began in Muslim societies and it’s with their support and silence that extremism grew into terrorism which is harming people across the world. It’s of no value for the French people, who are the victims here, to take to the streets to condemn the recent crimes. What’s required here is for Muslim communities to disown the Paris crime and Islamic extremism in general.
Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch said on Twitter on Friday: “Maybe most Moslems [are] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” In another tweet, he added: “Big jihadist danger looming everywhere from Philippines to Africa to Europe to US. Political correctness makes for denial and hypocrisy.”
In his op-ed for Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, Hisham Melhem argues that the terrorists of the world are winning because their targets are civilized and have a lower threshold of pain that they are willing to endure. They also have a lower threshold of pain they are willing to inflict.
Melhem provides a survey of asymmetric warfare across the ages. He points to the use of terror by the Assassins and equates Anwar al-Awlaki with the “Old Men of the Mountain” who directed terroristic groups in both Syria and Iran during the Middle Ages. Awlaki is able to cause action from beyond the grave, he notes.
A world in the shadows of terrorism
The terror attack on Charlie Hebdo, the worst on French soil in 50 years and the clashes it spawned, showed in bold relief how vulnerable are open democratic states to the diabolical machinations of a handful of trained killers. Paris, the political and cultural heart of France, a country of 66 million people, and a major world power with a nuclear arsenal, was neutralized for two days by four terrorists, according to preliminary reports.
Never have a few people, disrupted the lives of so many, with such low cost. In recent years, until the shocking rise of ISIS last summer, the literature on terrorism was dominated by the relatively new strain of terror threat cyber-attacks. Huge financial and significant human resources have been allocated to defend against this kind of terrorism that could cripple a modern economy, and to develop offensive cyber capabilities, particularly after major American corporations and key national security structures like the Pentagon have been subjected to successful hacking attacks. But conventional terror attacks, as we have seen recently in Canada, Australia and now France are as deadly and as crippling as ever.