The fight for Islam’s soul
While there is no doubt that Muslims are more sinned against than sinning, it is also true that we need to take a good hard look at our own conduct and how we appear to others. There is no point in screaming: “They hate Islam and they hate Muslims anyway”. We should calmly and dispassionately go into some of the things that we say and do in Islam’s name. By continuing to sulk and playing the stricken party, we will help everybody except ourselves.
It is in this context that a recently published report by the Centre for Religious Freedom, New York, should receive attention, not only of those who do not come out of it looking very good, namely the Saudi authorities, but of others who wish to restore the image of Islam and remove what they believe are misunderstandings in the West about one of the world’s great religions and its adherents.
The Centre is a division of Freedom House, founded more than sixty years ago by Eleanor Roosevelt, Wendell Willkie and others who were concerned about what they saw as threats to peace and democracy. The study undertaken surveyed more than a dozen of the principal mosques and Islamic centres in America, chose 200 of the books and publications they housed, 90 percent of them in Arabic, had them translated and then analysed. All documentation had some connection to the Saudi government. Not all, but many of the mosques surveyed receive financial support from the kingdom. In some, the staffing is done by the Saudi government. The results were quite shocking as much of the literature being distributed by these religious outlets preaches hatred for other religions and cultures. The bulk of the material was gathered in 2003, some as recently as November 2004.
A typical tract declares that America is the “abode of the infidel”, the Christian and the Jew. “Be dissociated from the infidels, hate them for their religion, leave them, never rely on them for support, do not admire them, and always oppose them in every way according to Islamic law. There is consensus in this matter, that whoever helps unbelievers against Muslims, regardless of what type of support he lends to them, he is an unbeliever himself.” Another says, “Never greet the Christian or Jew first. Never congratulate the infidel on his holiday. Never befriend an infidel unless it is to convert him. Never imitate the infidel. Never work for an infidel. Do not wear a graduation gown because this imitates the infidel.” The last bit is for graduating Muslim students in America. The book from which this is taken is called ‘Greetings from the Cultural Department’ of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington.
The Saudi view of freedom to think is as follows, according to another publication, “Freedom of thinking requires permitting the denial of faith and attacking what is sacred, glorifying falsehood and defending the heretics, finding fault in religion and letting loose the ideas and pens to write of disbelief as one likes, and to put ornaments on sin as one likes.” The view being propagated is that the world is divided into the abode of the faithful and that of the infidel and Muslims in the latter should behave as if they were on a mission behind enemy lines. “One insidious aspect of this propaganda is its aim to replace traditional and moderate interpretations of Islam with Wahabi extremism,” the analysis points out, while stressing that the Wahabi view of Islam is a minority view because the vast majority of Muslims finds such interpretations of religion foreign to the tolerance Islam preaches, including the Quranic injunction against coercion in matters of religion.
The study found literature distributed by the kingdom “replete with condemnations of Christians and their beliefs.” One booklet said, “It is basic Islam to believe that everyone who does not embrace Islam is an unbeliever, and must be called an unbeliever, and that they are enemies of Allah, his Prophet and believers.” Another publication said that churches and synagogues were not houses of God and whoever lets these places remain open and to preach is an infidel. Another one said that those who reside in the “land of unbelief” and accept their ways become “unbelievers” and Allah’s “enemies.”
The Saudi embassy also distributed fatwas for the guidance of Muslims. One said that it is forbidden for a Muslim to become the citizen of a country governed by infidels. Another laid down that he who leaves a Muslim land to live in a non-Muslim one has disobeyed Allah. One publication said, “Satan and his soldiers have found a home for themselves there (democratic world) … and anxiety, worry, fear, terror, sickness and death have become prevalent. Democracy is in need of someone to save it from itself.” Another held democracy responsible for all the horrible wars of the 20th century.
According to the Freedom House study, “For Wahabis and other salafist interpretations of Islam, women are considered a perpetual source of ‘fitna’ or discord in a social and moral sense.” In a collection of fatwas found at the major Islamic centre in Virginia, one fatwa rejected the idea of women teachers instructing adolescent boys, “A 10-year old boy is considered adolescent because he tends to like women and because, at this age, he is able to get married and can do what men do.” Another held that the enemies of Islam “want the woman to become a destructive tool, bait they can use, to hunt down those who have weak faith and uncontrollable desires.” A textbook for high school students asked, “The masculine woman who smokes and drinks and wears men’s clothing, and drifts with men in the gathering place of hippies, is she human? These cattle-like groups of boys and girls having sex on the streets, in the woods, the night club and in any place, are they human?”
One bright sign is that Crown Prince Abdullah is more than aware of the dangers of narrow, intolerant interpretations of Islam. He convened a meeting in December 2003 as part of a “national dialogue” that found “grave defects” in Saudi school curricula and called for reform. A multi-million dollar public relations campaign has also been launched in the West to correct the kingdom’s image. A two-day international conference on terrorism held in Riyadh in the first week of February this year also shows that Prince Abdullah is deeply concerned about the problem and is intent on dealing with it. However, so deep run the roots of intolerance and a distorted view of the world that has been propagated for so long, that it is not going to take time and commitment. The Freedom House report concurs. “We have confirmed that as of December 2004, the retrograde, unreformed editions of Saudi textbooks and state-sponsored, hate-filled fatwa collection remain widespread and plentiful in many important American mosques.”