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Muslims Against Crusades: My Position

I want to address a question that is persistently raised by pro EDL types and right wingers on twitter. Partly because I want to put the record straight, but also because it’s a valid question that I have found hard to articulate an answer to with satisfactory justifications thus far. The question is, why do self-confessed anti-fascist, anti-racists liberals only oppose the EDL and BNP, and not give their perennial nemesis Anjem Choudary and Muslims Against Crusades equal attention? The inference is that by not visibly and vociferously campaigning against MAC that we are somehow condoning and complicit in their words and deeds. Willfully acting as dhimmified useful idiots in the Islamification of the UK.

I have actually aired my uncomplimentary views on Choudary and his band of followers on a number of occasions, but I want to make a definitive and permanent statement. I have expressed my opinion that he is an agitator who doesn’t represent British Muslims, that he’s a publicity hungry pantomime villain that has the reactionary right dancing to his loony tunes. He’s simply a cartoonish caricature with a minuscule following who are best starved of the oxygen of publicity. I don’t share the outrage of the EDL when they call for sharia law, declare certain areas sharia controlled zones, announce plans for Islamic Emirates within the UK, claim that the flag of Islam will fly over Downing Street or that the Royal abode will become a mega mosque. I just can’t take their behaviour seriously, and while I can understand why people are offended, I have enough common sense to realise that these are laughably delusional statements that will never come to fruition. Even their more tasteless stunts such as, sending unsympathetic letters to bereaved families of British soldiers, planning protests for Wooton Bassett, holding a mock funeral for Bin Laden in London, burning poppies on Armistice Day and warning of potential terrorist attacks at the Royal Wedding, whilst despicable in varying degrees have a whiff of professional trolling rather than being a serious threat to society and a danger to the public.

Am I being too dismissive? Some might claim that in the grand scheme of things, much of my reasoning could also be applied to the EDL. After all, they don’t represent all white Britons, or all working class Brits. Compared to the national population their support is microscopic, and it could be argued that deprived of attention they would simply fade into obscurity. So why do people like myself choose to spend so much time and energy working against far right extremists but not their Islamic equivalent?

After much thought it’s still not crystal clear in my mind, but I’ll try to make sense of it whilst putting it into words. I think much of it is down to the fact that as a white Briton, I have a responsibility to make a statement which shows that the EDL don’t represent me. Not only this, but I have a duty to the Muslim citizens of this country who are every bit as British as I am, to show that as a multi-ethnic, culturally diverse nation, the persecution and demonising of minorities is not supported by the vast majority of  their compatriots. That as someone who is proud of the fact that this country is a colourful melting pot of races, faiths and cultures, I will not allow the divisive ideology of a far right group go unchallenged.

Using the same logic, rightly or wrongly, I feel maybe subconsciously that it’s therefore not my place to actively oppose the MAC in a similar way. That there might be a risk as a white non-Muslim of making the issue appear racial or Islamophobic, rather than an anti-extremism stance. Maybe I need to be less PC, after all the MAC’s actions are damaging to the image of the wider Muslim population and provide the ammunition for the EDL to whip up more hysteria. But deep down I probably feel the people best positioned to counter the MAC are British Muslims. The problem with this, is that it implies we require Muslims to distance themselves from people that we should have the perceptiveness to realise don’t represent them in any way. I personally don’t expect British Muslims to make public statements denouncing Anjem Choudary just to allay the suspicion of  paranoid bigots. Why should they? I’ve covered this issue in a previous post here. The claim that moderate Muslims never speak out against extremists is tediously commonplace in right wing rhetoric, and as I’ve proven is totally false. Frustratingly, the media gives more air time & column inches to Anjem Choudary than anyone representative of the British Muslim community. Radical Muslims make headlines and generate debate, Muslims being uncontroversial and law abiding just isn’t news. There is ample evidence available just a google search away, of individuals and Muslim groups speaking out against Choudary’s various organisations, but it’s telling that those making the claims choose not to investigate this possibility. This is a subject I plan on giving more attention to in a future post.

Another reason I tend to ignore MAC is due to the fact that there is a wider picture pertaining to their history, and a widely held suspicion that there is more to their continued existence than meets the eye. This may sound slightly cryptic and conspiratorial, and I will be elaborating on this in an up and coming article also. But I’ll just say that focusing time and energy on Choudary and his henchmen is probably a distraction of massive proportions and futility, and exactly what certain quarters want. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not suggesting they pose no potential risk at all. Al-Muhajiroun under Omar Bakri saw an estimated 16 members or affiliates commit or conspire to commit terroristic acts during their existence. Choudary was second in command until Bakri’s enforced exile and their disbanding, before he formed the now proscribed Islam4UK. The ideology and, it’s reasonable to assume, many of the members remain to this day, along with newer recruits under the guise of MAC. But they lack the sinister aura of the Hamza/Bakri days, and seem to act as more of a propaganda and self publicity operation today. That such a media friendly extremist would be able to conduct affairs so blatantly and publicly without being monitored very closely is unthinkable and highly improbable. The most sensible course of action for the public and media to follow as far as MAC are concerned in my opinion, is to pay them no attention, and let the relevant agencies do their jobs.

It’s no surprise that the nationalist, xenophobic, immigrant hostile EDL are so easily provoked by a group of Muslims espousing anti-Western, anti-Monarchy and anti-Forces views, it’s as predictable as it is depressing. But it’s their choice and their right to oppose them. When it becomes obvious that the EDL or anyone else are using the MAC’s behaviour to target an entire community with unwarranted abuse and hostility, which has inevitably escalated into violent attacks, vandalism and vile dehumanising rhetoric on a par with Nazi era anti-Semitism, I choose to oppose them. I have different priorities. We are witnessing the development of a destructive and dangerous ideology, the Islamophobic Eurabia conspiracy theory, that is enjoying a worryingly widespread mainstream acceptance and has produced it’s first major terrorist atrocity in Norway. It’s the latest period in our shameful history of demonising and persecuting minorities in the ‘Christian West’, and poses a far more destructive and corrosive threat to peace and harmony in our communities than a handful of religious zealots with little support or influence.

So that’s my official stance on Muslims Against Crusades. I find much of what they do distasteful, but ultimately pointless. I don’t take them seriously enough to make me angry. Rather, I focus my attention on what I feel is the more serious issue and urgent cause, right wing extremism, neo-fascism, racism and bigotry. I make no apologies for this and am comfortable with my choice.

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Fundamentally Wrong

Fundamentalist, militant, radical, extremist. All words commonly applied to Islam and Muslims to describe the element involved in carrying out, encouraging or condoning terrorist or criminal activities. I have issues with some of these descriptions. We often hear the likes of Stephen Lennon claiming that the EDL are at war with fundamental Islam, or terrorists described as Muslim fundamentalists. To me, this just misses the point by such a huge margin and displays such ignorance that it can’t be ignored.

fun•da•men•tal [fuhn-duh-men-tl]

–adjective

1. serving as, or being an essential part of, a foundation or basis; basic; underlying: fundamental principles; the fundamental structure.

2. of, pertaining to, or affecting the foundation or basis: a fundamental revision.

3. being an original or primary source: a fundamental idea.

–noun

5. a basic principle, rule, law, or the like, that serves as the groundwork of a system; essential part: to master the fundamentals of a trade.

Synonyms – essential, original, primary.

Using the word fundamental to describe the violent jihadist outlook of terrorists, is quite blatantly insinuating that Islam in its original 7th century incarnation was violent, hostile and barbaric. Anyone who has studied Islam or the history of the Arab world will know how this perception is completely at odds with the truth.

The word Islam is a verbal noun which originates from the trilateral root ‘S-L-M’ (Shin-Lamedh-Mem) which translates as ‘whole-safe-intact’, and is derived from the verb ‘aslama’ which means ‘to give up’, ‘to desert’ or ‘to surrender’. Its religious meaning in the simplest term is ‘submission’ or ‘surrender’, or more poetically ‘entrusting one’s wholeness to another’ namely God. Another word derived from the same root is ‘Salaam’ which means ‘Peace’. ‘Muslim’ is the participle of the same verb of which Islam is the infinitive, and means ‘one who submits’.

It is also important to note that Muhammad was encouraging submission to Allah which is a contraction of the Arabic definite article al- “the” and ‘ilāh “deity, god” to al-lāh meaning “the [sole] deity, God”. So rather than claiming to bring revelations from a new deity named Allah, Muhammad was simply using the Arabic for the God already worshipped by Christians and Jews. For one to devote one’s life to the worship and adherence to the commandments of Allah (become a Muslim), one would need to accept that the Qur’an is the final word of God as revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. Naturally, as a prophet of God, Muhammad lived his life according to the message of God and encouraged others to follow his example. It’s logical to assume therefore that the message of the Qur’an, the life of Muhammad and the earliest examples of life under Islam are an accurate indication of the fundamentals of the faith.

Historians, scholars and biographers are quite unanimous in the opinion that the advent of Islam was a blessing for Arabia, and the deeds and words of Muhammad revolutionised Arabian society.

Muhammad approved and exhorted certain aspects of the Arab pre-Islamic tradition, such as the care for one’s near kin, for widows, orphans, and others in need and for the establishment of justice.

William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad was both a social and moral reformer. He asserts that Muhammad created a “new system of social security and a new family structure, both of which were a vast improvement on what went before. By taking what was best in the morality of the nomad and adapting it for settled communities, he established a religious and social framework for the life of many races of men.”

Bernard Lewis writes about the significance of Muhammad’s achievements:

“He had achieved a great deal. To the pagan peoples of western Arabia he had brought a new religion which, with its monotheism and its ethical doctrines, stood on an incomparably higher level than the paganism it replaced. He had provided that religion with a revelation which was to become in the centuries to follow the guide to thought and count of countless millions of Believers.

According to Lewis, Islam “from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents.”

Slavery

According to Jonathan Brockopp, professor of History and Religious Studies, the idea of using alms for the manumission of slaves appears to be unique to the Qur’an. Brockopp adds that: “Other cultures limit a master’s right to harm a slave but few exhort masters to treat their slaves kindly, and the placement of slaves in the same category as other weak members of society who deserve protection is unknown outside the Qur’an. The unique contribution of the Qur’an, then, is to be found in its emphasis on the place of slaves in society and society’s responsibility toward the slave, perhaps the most progressive legislation on slavery in its time.”

The Islamic prophet Muhammad encouraged manumission of slaves, even if one had to purchase them first. On many occasions, Muhammad’s companions, at his direction, freed slaves in abundance. Muhammad personally freed 63 slaves, and his wife Aisha freed 67. In total his household and friends freed 39,237 slaves.

Women

The Oxford Dictionary of Islam states that the general improvement of the status of Arab women included prohibition of female infanticide, and recognizing women’s full personhood.

William Montgomery Watt: “At the time Islam began, the conditions of women were terrible – they had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and if the man died everything went to his sons.” Muhammad, however, by “instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce, gave women certain basic safeguards.”

Majid Khadduri writes that under the Arabian pre-Islamic law of status, women had virtually no rights. Sharia (Islamic law), however, provided women with a number of rights.

John Esposito states that the reforms affected marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Women were not accorded with such legal status in other cultures, including the West, until centuries later.

Nancy Gallagher, Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures, Infanticide and Abandonment of Female Children: According to some scholars, Muhammad’s condemnation of infanticide was the key aspect of his attempts to raise the status of women.

Maya Shatzmiller (1994), Labour in the Medieval Islamic World: The labor force in the Caliphate were employed from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, while both men and women were involved in diverse occupations and economic activities. Women were employed in a wide range of commercial activities and diverse occupations in the primary sector (as farmers, for example), secondary sector (as construction workers, dyers, spinners, etc.) and tertiary sector (as investors, doctors, nurses, presidents of guilds, brokers, peddlers, lenders, scholars, etc.). Muslim women also held a monopoly over certain branches of the textile industry, the largest and most specialized and market-oriented industry at the time, in occupations such as spinning, dyeing, and embroidery. In comparison, female property rights and wage labour were relatively uncommon in Europe until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Jamal Badawi, The status of women in Islam: Women’s rights in the Qur’an are based around the marriage contract. A woman, according to Islamic tradition, does not have to give her pre-marriage possessions to her husband and receives a mahr (dowery) which she is allowed to keep.

Dr. Jamal A. Badawi: The position of women in Islam: In Islam, in some circumstances, a woman can initiate a divorce. According to Sharia Law, a woman can file a case in the courts for a divorce in a process called “Khal’a”, meaning “Break up”. However, under most Islamic schools of jurisprudence, both partners must unanimously agree to the divorce in order for it to be granted. To prevent irrational decisions and for the sake of the family’s stability, Islam enjoins that both parties observe a waiting period (of roughly three months) before the divorce is finalized.

Children

The Qur’an rejected the pre-Islamic idea of children as their fathers’ property and abolished the pre-Islamic custom of adoption.

Welfare

Sociologist Robert N. Bellah (Beyond Belief) argues that Islam in its 7th century origins was, for its time and place, “remarkably modern…in the high degree of commitment, involvement, and participation expected from the rank-and-file members of the community.”

The concepts of welfare and pension were introduced in early Islamic law as forms of Zakat (charity), one of the Five Pillars of Islam, under the Rashidun caliph Umar in the 7th century. This practice continued well into the Abbasid era, as seen under Al-Ma’mun’s rule in the 8th century, for example. The taxes (including Zakat and Jizya) collected in the treasury of an Islamic government were used to provide income for the needy, including the poor, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled.

Islam reduced the devastating effect of blood feuds, which was common among Arabs, by encouraging compensation in money rather than blood. In case the aggrieved party insisted on blood, unlike the pre-Islamic Arab tradition in which any male relative could be slain, only the culprit himself could be executed.

The Cambridge History of Islam states that the nomadic structure of pre-Islamic Arabia had the serious moral problem of the care of the poor and the unfortunate. “Not merely did the Qur’an urge men to show care and concern for the needy, but in its teaching about the Last day it asserted the existence of a sanction applicable to men as individuals in matters where their selfishness was no longer restrained by nomadic ideas of dishonour.”

Islam teaches support for the poor and the oppressed. In an effort to protect and help the poor and orphans, regular almsgiving — zakat — was made obligatory for Muslims. This regular alms-giving developed into a form of income tax to be used exclusively for welfare.

Sometime after 622 Muhammad drafted the Constitution of Medina. It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter inter tribal fighting between the clans of the Aws and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community.

The Constitution established: the security of the community, religious freedoms, the role of Medina as a haram or sacred place (barring all violence and weapons), the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, a judicial system for resolving disputes, and also regulated the paying of blood money.

Hisham Ramadan: Understanding Islamic Law: From Classical to Contemporary: The Medina Constitution also instituted peaceful methods of dispute resolution among diverse groups living as one people but without assimilating into one religion, language, or culture.

Welch in Encyclopedia of Islam states: “The constitution reveals his Muhammad’s great diplomatic skills, for it allows the ideal that he cherished of an ummah (community) based clearly on a religious outlook to sink temporarily into the background and is shaped essentially by practical considerations.”

The Basic Principles of Sharia

Respect for Divine RevelationClassical Islamic scholars interpret this to require freedom of religion, which means that each human has the right freely to seek truth.

Respect for the Human Person and LifeThis principle provides guidelines for what in modern parlance is called the doctrine of just war.

Respect for Family and Communityat every level all the way to the community of humankind as an important expression of the person.

Respect for the Environmentconcerns the relative priorities in protecting the environment versus protecting the other essential purposes of human life.

Respect for Economic JusticeThis requires respect for the rights of private property in the means of production, which is a universal human right of every human being

Respect for Political Justiceincluding the concept that economic democracy is a precondition for the political democracy of representative government.

Respect for Human DignityThis principle states that the most important requirement for individual human dignity is gender equity. In traditional Islamic thought, freedom and equality are not ultimate ends but essential means to pursue the higher purposes inherent in the divine design of the Creator for every person.

Respect for KnowledgeThe last universal or essential purpose at the root of Islamic jurisprudence is respect for knowledge. This can be sustained only by observance of the first seven principles and also is essential to each of them.

The second-order principles of this maqsad are freedom of thought, press, and assembly so that all persons can fulfil their purpose to seek knowledge wherever they can find it.

To summarise:

The word Islam has the same origin as the word for peace. Islam through Muhammad improved life for women, children and slaves. He reformed womens rights in marriage, divorce and inheritance, outlawed infanticide and encouraged and practiced the emancipation of slaves. He introduced the concept of welfare and social security through a tax system to benefit the needy, including the poor, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled. He ended the blood feuds by introducing financial compensation in it’s place. He ended the constant battles in Medina by instigating a constitution that ensured the security of the community, religious freedoms, the barring of all violence and weapons, the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, and a judicial system for resolving disputes. His revelations and example were also the cornerstone of the basic principles of Sharia which stand up to scrutiny as a precursor to modern human rights guidelines.

These are examples of the effect that the fundamentals of Islam had on the Arab world. The basic, pure, uncorrupted principles at the core of Islam. The likes of the EDL attempt to evade accusations of discrimination by claiming they’re not against Islam, only the barbaric 7th century version practiced by extremists. They see cruel, inhumane and discriminatory acts being committed in developing or third world countries and assume their form of Islam is less evolved and therefore closer to the original version. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Poverty, lack of education and oppression means that a huge number of these people have never even owned or read the Qur’an. They are at the mercy of conservative clerics, corrupt authorities and Taliban style militias who use their own distorted versions of Islam and political views to subjugate and manipulate the public. The ideology espoused by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has deviated so far from the principles and morality of Islam that it ceases to be Islamic. In fact it could be argued quite convincingly that their motives are entirely political, and religion is only used dishonestly to justify their actions.

I want to have a look at the other adjectives that are often used to describe Muslims.

Radical – deviating by extremes, extremist, fanatical, rebellious, revolutionary.

Militant – belligerent, hostile, barbaric, aggressive, offensive.

Extreme – beyond reason and convention, fanatical, irrational, rabid, unreasonable.

How can someone adhereing to the fundamentals also be rebellious and beyond convention? How can someone follow the original theology but also deviate by extremes? Islam forbids aggression and excess and encourages moderation, even in religion.

‘We have made you a nation justly balanced’ (2:143)

‘Do not overburden yourselves, lest you perish. People [before you] overburdened themselves and perished. Their remains are found in hermitages and monasteries’ (Musnad of Abu Ya’la).

Muhammad once said to his close Companion Abdullah ibn ‘Amr: ‘Have I heard tight that you fast everyday and stand in prayer all night?’ Abdullah replied, ‘Yes, 0 Messenger of God: The Prophet said, ‘Do not do that. Fast, as well as, eat and drink. Stand in prayer, as well as, sleep. This is because your body has a right upon you, your eyes have a right upon you, your wife has a right upon you, and your guest has a right upon you (Bukhari, Muslim).

Islam only permits fighting in self defence, and commands to cease if the opponent surrenders.

Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors.

But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.

If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear (the punishment of) God, and know that God is with those who restrain themselves.

2:190-194

“If you kill one person unjustly it is as if you killed the whole humanity, and if you saved once person it is as if you saved the whole humanity.” (Quran Surah 5 Verse No 32)

Therefore a militant form of Islam which encourages hostility, aggression and barbarism is a departure from the fundamentals and un-Islamic. Just as Christians claim that someone acting in an un-Christian manner is by defenition no longer a Christian, the same must apply to Muslims. It may be a trivial point. It’s not going to stop extremists being extremists. But I thinks it’s crucial in changing the perception of Islam and understanding the situation. The belief that the problem with Islamic extremism is a dogmatic adherence to a barbaric 7th century religion is common even among non-Islamophobes. But it is clearly not true. The need for Islamophobes to make the link between Islam and crimes committed by its adherents means that we need to be clear on the these facts to be able to counter their claims. The best way I can think of putting it, even as an atheist, is by quoting Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) when he said that the problem isn’t too much Islam but too little.

Myth-Conceptions Pt. IV: Muhammad & Aisha

“It is reported from Aisha that she said: The Prophet entered into marriage with me when I was a girl of six … and at the time [of joining his household] I was a girl of nine years of age.”  

“Khadija died three years before the Prophet departed to Medina. He stayed [alone] for two years or so. He married Aisha when she was a girl of six years of age, and he consummated that marriage when she was nine years old.”  

Sahih Bukhari ,Volume 5, Book 58, Number 234 and 236.

Perhaps the most insulting and damaging accusation that can be levelled at a man in this day and age is that he’s a paedophile. The sexual abuse of a child is probably the most grotesque and unfathomable act possible for anyone to commit. So unimaginably evil that 99.99% of the male population can safely take the moral high ground in condemning it. Any skeletons we may have in the closet pale into insignificance compared to paedophilia. Even murderers serving life sentences look down on child sex offenders despite their own transgressions and moral shortcomings. Quite simply they are society’s bottom feeders, the scum of the earth.

How Islamophobes must have thought they’d hit the jackpot with the revelation that the Prophet Muhammad was said to have married a 6-year-old girl, and consummated said marriage when she was 9. Not only this but Muhammad is used as the perfect example, and his life and sayings, the Sunnah and Hadith, are a source of guidance to every practicing Muslim. So naturally, paedophilia is permitted and encouraged in Islam. This is such a versatile insult as well. You can discredit a whole religion due to its founder being a sex offender. You can nod to any sex offence committed by a Muslim and state ‘he’s just being a good Muslim’, whilst claiming that anyone not committing such crimes aren’t true Muslims as they aren’t following Muhammad’s example. The EDL seem to be stretching it’s adaptability with the chants of ‘Allah is a paedo’ though. Whether they think Allah and Muhammad are one and the same, or just think it’s the most offensive thing they could possibly sing I don’t know. It’s probably safe to assume that they don’t know that Allah is simply Arabic for God, the same one Christians and Jews worship, not a separate deity. I wonder what they think Arabic Christians or Jews call their God? The irony of the fact that they are singing ‘God is a paedo’ with such glee seems to be completely lost on them.

Back to the issue at hand. The purpose of this series is to dispel the myths and expose the lies circulated by the anti-Muslim community. But as we can see from the extract quoted above it’s there in black and white, direct from the hadith. Surely there’s no way of wriggling out of this one? Think again. As with many of the other controversial verses and passages, left in isolation with no consideration of the wider picture or critical analysis, it’s pretty damning. Unfortunately, it’s also true that ancient pre-Islamic practices are justified in some quarters by doing just this. Sadly this only adds weight to the Islamophobe’s claims. But as I’ve noted in the other articles, what may be the cultural norm in places such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, isn’t necessarily sanctioned by the Quran, hadith or Sunnah, and shouldn’t be used as an indication of what is ‘normal’ for Muslims elsewhere.

I have no intention of indulging in cultural or moral relativism so this will not be an exercise in apologetics. Instead I will use evidence gathered from studies by eminent scholars and experts.

Bear in mind this assertion by Dr. David Liepert when considering the evidence:

There are really only three reasons to insist—as so many do —that Aisha was only 9 years old when Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) married her: Either you are such a crazy Islamophile that you are willing to go to your grave insisting Muhammad could do whatever he wanted. Or you are such a crazy Islamophobe that you want to insist he did. Or you are such a weirdly religious sex-crazed pervert that you hope accusing him makes it OK for you to do it too.

Liepert continues with the findings of thorough and detailed analysis of timelines and chronology within Islamic texts.

Aisha was married in 622 C.E., and although her exact birthday is unknown, Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari recorded that it happened before Islam was revealed in 610. The earliest surviving biography of Muhammad, Abu Muhammad ‘Abd al-Malik bin Hisham’s recension of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah “The Life of the Messenger of God” records that Aisha accepted Islam shortly after it was revealed— 12 years before her marriage —and there is no way she could have done so as an infant or toddler. It is a matter of incontrovertible historical record that Aisha was involved in the Battles of Badr in 624 CE, and Uhud in 625, in neither of which was anyone under the age of 15 allowed. Finally Imam Wali-ud-Din Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Khatib; dead for over 700 years, recorded in the biographical section of Miskat al-Masabih that Asma, her elder sister of ten years, died at the age of 100, 72 years after Aisha’s wedding. This makes Aisha’s age at the time of her marriage at least 14, and at the time of her marriage’s consummation almost 20.

Tarek Fatah wrote an impassioned piece on this subject following a grossly offensive speech given by ‘former Muslim’ Wafa Sultan.

 How do people like Wafa Sultan or the Islamists claim to know for a fact that the age of Aisha was nine when her marriage to Muhammad was consummated? There are no birth records from the time and there is not a single piece of physical paper that can be traced back to seventh century Arabia that mentions the age of Aisha. In the absence of hard evidence, we have two choices:

1. We rely on medieval hearsay and gossip that has unfortunately seeped into Islamic literature, the Hadith and Sharia law, or; 

2. We calculate the age of Aisha based on actual agreed upon indisputable chronology of events.

The historian al-Tabari informs us in his treatise on Islamic history that the father of Aisha, Abu Bakr had four children and all them were born before the year 610AD, the year of the advent of Islam. If, as is generally accepted, Aisha became Muhammad’s bride in the year 624AD, then she had to be at least 14 years of age, if not older on the day of her wedding. 

Other calculations based on historical events place Aisha as old as 20 when she was became a bride. Ibn Hisham, the historian, reports that Aisha accepted Islam quite some time before Umar (the second caliph). This means she must have been at least a young girl in the year 610. Assuming she was five years old when Abu Bakr and his family converted to islam, the information puts the age of Aisha at 20 or more at the time of her marriage with Muhammad was consummated in 624AD. 

Furthermore, most Islamic historians agree that Asma, the elder sister of Aisha, was ten years older than her. It is also reported that Asma died in 683AD at the ripe age of 100. If this is true, then Asma would have been 31 years old at the time of Aisha’s wedding with Muhammad in 624 and the bride would have been 21.

Zahid Aziz has compiled numerous sources into one comprehensive article on the matter.

It appears that Maulana Muhammad Ali was the first Islamic scholar directly to challenge the notion that Aisha was aged six and nine, respectively, at the time of her nikah and consummation of marriage.

Prophet of Islam – published in the 1920s and 1930s.

“A great misconception prevails as to the age at which Aisha was taken in marriage by the Prophet. Ibn Sa‘d has stated in the Tabaqat that when Abu Bakr [father of Aisha] was approached on behalf of the Holy Prophet, he replied that the girl had already been betrothed to Jubair, and that he would have to settle the matter first with him. This shows that Aisha must have been approaching majority at the time. Again, the Isaba, speaking of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, says that she was born five years before the Call and was about five years older than Aisha. This shows that Aisha must have been about ten years at the time of her betrothal to the Prophet, and not six years as she is generally supposed to be. This is further borne out by the fact that Aisha herself is reported to have stated that when the chapter [of the Holy Quran] entitled The Moon, the fifty-fourth chapter, was revealed, she was a girl playing about and remembered certain verses then revealed. Now the fifty-fourth chapter was undoubtedly revealed before the sixth year of the Call. All these considerations point to but one conclusion, viz., that Aisha could not have been less than ten years of age at the time of her nikah, which was virtually only a betrothal. And there is one report in the Tabaqat that Aisha was nine years of age at the time of nikah. Again it is a fact admitted on all hands that the nikah of Aisha took place in the tenth year of the Call in the month of Shawwal, while there is also preponderance of evidence as to the consummation of her marriage taking place in the second year of Hijra in the same month, which shows that full five years had elapsed between the nikah and the consummation. Hence there is not the least doubt that Aisha was at least nine or ten years of age at the time of betrothal, and fourteen or fifteen years at the time of marriage.”

Research subsequent to the time of Maulana Muhammad Ali has shown that she was older than this.

The compiler of the famous Hadith collection Mishkat al-Masabih, Imam Wali-ud-Din Muhammad ibn Abdullah Al-Khatib, who died 700 years ago, has also written brief biographical notes on the narrators of Hadith reports. He writes under Asma,  the older daughter of Abu Bakr: 

“She was the sister of Aisha Siddiqa, wife of the Holy Prophet, and was ten years older than her. … In 73 A.H. … Asma died at the age of one hundred years. 

This would make Asma 28 years of age in 1 A.H., the year of the Hijra, thus making Aisha 18 years old in 1 A.H. So Aisha would be 19 years old at the time of the consummation of her marriage, and 14 or 15 years old at the time of her nikah. 

The same statement is made by the famous classical commentator of the Holy Quran, Ibn Kathir, in his book Al-bidayya wal-nihaya: 

Asma died in 73 A.H. at the age of one hundred years. She was ten years older than her sister Aisha.

A. Faizur Rahman: 

Child marriage in Islam is justified on the basis of a hadith in Bukhari which says that the Prophet married Hazrath Aisha when she was just six and consummated the marriage when she was nine.

This hadith cannot be true for several reasons. First, the Prophet could not have gone against the Quran to marry a physically and intellectually immature child. Secondly, the age of Hazrat Aisha can be easily calculated from the age of her elder sister Hazrat Asma who was 10 years older than Hazrat Aisha.  Waliuddin Muhammad Abdullah Al-Khateeb al Amri Tabrizi the famous author of Mishkath, in his biography of narrators (Asma ur Rijal), writes that Hazrat Asma died in the year 73 Hijri at the age of 100, ten or twelve days after the martyrdom of her son Abdullah Ibn Zubair. It is common knowledge that the Islamic calendar starts from the year of the Hijrah or the Prophet’s migration from Mecca to Medina. Therefore, by deducting 73, the year of Hazrat Asma’s death, from 100, her age at that time, we can easily conclude that she was 27-years old during Hijra. This puts the age of Hazrat Aisha at 17 during the same period. As all biographers of the Prophet agree that he consummated his marriage with Hazrat Aisha in the year 2 Hijri it can be conclusively said that she was 19 at that time and not 9 as alleged in the aforementioned hadith.

Islamophobes will argue that the hadiths are an integral part of Islam and an irrefutable record of the life of Muhammad. If Bukhari states the age of Aisha in the hadith, then arguing against it is blasphemy is it not?

Dr. David Liepert:

Imam Bukhari, compiler of the famous Hadith collection Sahih Bukhari included one recalling that Aisha said she was 6 when betrothed and 9 when she was wed. However, Bukhari included another recording that Aisha was a young girl and remembered when Surah Al-Qamar was revealed 9 years before her wedding as well. Obviously, both Hadiths can’t be true, and that’s the problem with relying too much on Hadiths, and too little on the Quran and common sense. Even if you believe, as I do, that the Quran is a divinely protected book, the same cannot be said about all Hadiths.

In fact, there is even an Ayah in the Quran that warns about the dangers of thinking otherwise. Luqman 31: 6 cautions:

But there are, among men, those who purchase idle Hadiths, without knowledge (or meaning), to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah and throw ridicule (on the Path): for such there will be a Humiliating Penalty. 

The only thing you need to realize is that both the tales Bukhari included can’t both be true. That fact; put together with the Quran’s warning means that Hadiths can’t be as authoritative to Muslims as the Holy Quran and the Sunnah are. 

Zahid Aziz shares his findings on the Hadiths:

As to the authenticity of these reports, it may be noted that the compilers of the books of Hadith did not apply the same stringent tests when accepting reports relating to historical matters as they did before accepting reports relating to the practical teachings and laws of Islam. The reason is that the former type of report was regarded as merely of academic interest while the latter type of report had a direct bearing on the practical duties of a Muslim and on what was allowed to them and what was prohibited. Thus the occurrence of reports such as the above about the marriage of Aisha in books of Hadith, even in Bukhari, is not necessarily a proof of their credibility.

There is further evidence that contradicts claims of Aisha’s immaturity. Historical reports don’t paint a picture of a pre-pubescent girl forced into marriage, sex and Islam against her will.

At the time of her marriage with the Holy Prophet Muhammad, it is of the greatest relevance to note the pivotal role she played as a teacher, exponent and interpreter of the religion of Islam. Aisha was an exceptionally intelligent and astute woman, a young prodigy, and this was the main reason why she was got married to the Holy Prophet, as is clearly proved by events after the Holy Prophet’s life. She entered his household, shortly after his emigration to Madina, just at the time when the teachings of Islam in all fields of life for the Muslim community were starting to be revealed to the Holy Prophet and demonstrated by him by his example and practice. An intellectually gifted person was required who would have daily contact with the Holy Prophet at the closest and most personal level, so as to absorb the teachings that he was giving on all aspects of life by his words and actions. Such a person would need to possess the following qualities:

  • an excellent, precise memory to retain a vast amount of detail accurately,
  • the understanding to grasp the significance and the principles of the teachings,
  • powers of reasoning, criticism and deduction to resolve problems on the basis of those teachings,
  • the skills to convey knowledge to a wide range of audience,
  • and, finally, have the prospect of living for a considerable period of time after the death of the Holy Prophet in order to spread his message to distant generations.

That Aisha possessed all these qualities and carried out this mission is an absolutely positive and undeniable, historical fact. After the Holy Prophet’s death, she acted as a teacher and interpreter of Islam, providing guidance to even the greatest of the male Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. They made a special point of going to her to gain knowledge and seek her opinion. A vast number of sayings and actions of the Holy Prophet are reported from her in books of Hadith. She not only quoted his sayings and reported her observations of events, but interpreted them to provide solutions to questions. Whenever necessary, she corrected the views of the greatest of the Companions of the Holy Prophet. She made rulings and judgments on which Islamic law is based.

It is thus recognised, from the earliest times in Islam, that some two-thirds of Islamic Sharia is based on reports and interpretations that have come from Aisha.

In view of these exceptional qualities of Aisha and the towering role played by her in the transmission of the teachings of Islam, it is simply preposterous and outrageous to suggest that she was the victim of some form of child and marital abuse.

Dr. Liepert again:

Whether Aisha was still a child when her marriage was consummated has never been a question: all scholars agree that occurred after Aisha’s menarche. Islamophobes inevitably claim otherwise, but they do so based on a completely fictitious interpretation of events.

The condemnation of the Quran and Sunnah are very clear: The Quran states a woman’s consent is essential, and the Sunnah confirms that both Aisha’s betrothal and consummation occurred with Aisha’s enthusiastic agreement. In fact, some even imply she went against the initial wishes of her Dad! Those guides unequivocally confirm that men and woman have equal status before God, equal though different rights when wed, and that a woman cannot be given in marriage without her express approval. Absent that, the Sunnah also records that Muhammad dissolved marriages on the woman’s testimony alone.

As has already been mentioned, an over reliance on the Hadiths in preference to the Qur’an and the core principles of Islam has allowed elements of the Islamic and anti-Muslim communities to interpret a distorted view to suit their agendas. The Qur’an, the divine message from Allah as revealed by Muhammad himself states:

Marriage in Islam is a civil contract, meesaaq ( 4:21), and as such it can be finalized only between persons who are intellectually and physically mature enough to understand and fulfill the responsibilities of such a contract. This can be further understood from the verse; “And test the orphans until they reach the age of nikah (marriage), and if you find in them rushdh (maturity of intellect) release their property to them.”(4:6). It may be noted here that the Quran makes intellectual maturity (which always falls beyond the age of puberty) the basis to arrive at the age of marriage. This is also in conformity with the Quranic description of marriage as emotional bonding between two mutually compatible persons through which they seek “to dwell in tranquility” (see 7:189 and 30:21) in the companionship of each other which is not possible if either of the spouses is mentally undeveloped.

Also from the Hadiths:

“The widow and the divorced woman shall not be married until their order is obtained, and the virgin shall not be married until her consent is obtained.”

In addition, Muhammad gave women the power to annul their marriages if it was found that they had been married against their consent.

“When a man gives his daughter in marriage and she dislikes it, the marriage shall be annulled.”

Once a virgin girl came to the Prophet and said that her father had married her to a man against her wishes. The Prophet gave her the right to repudiate the marriage.

For a valid marriage, the following conditions must be satisfied, this is in accordance with all schools of thought.

  • There must be a clear proposal.
  • There must be a clear acceptance.
  • There must be at least two competent witnesses. This is necessary to exclude illicit sex and to safeguard legitimacy of progeny. It is recommended that marriage should be widely publicized.
  • There must be a marriage gift, little or more, by the bridegroom to the bride.

Anyone bent on smearing and disrespecting Islam and Muslims will no doubt find fault in the material presented above. It will be labelled as apologetics or revisionism, or just ignored and dismissed. Others will point out that it doesn’t really matter what it says in the Qur’an as the reality is, child marriage does occur in some Islamic countries. They have a valid point, even if their stance is not entirely sympathetic or their criticism constructive. The issues of forced, arranged marriages and child marriages are a source of shame and embarrassment to the wider Muslim community and need to be addressed with sensitivity but assertively. The treatment of women as property is strictly prohibited according to the Qur’an not to mention UN law, but forced marriages and the use of girls as compensation to victims of crimes are all too common in areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan despite also being illegal there. The problem isn’t Islam though.

Factors perpetuating early marriage include poverty, parental desire to ensure sexual relations within marriage, a lack of educational or employment opportunities for girls, the sense that girls’ main value is as wives and mothers, and dowry systems. Girls who become pregnant may face extreme pressure from families and communities to marry. (UNFPA) 

Poverty plays a central role in perpetuating child marriage. Parents want to ensure their daughters’ financial security; however, daughters are considered an economic burden. Feeding, clothing, and educating girls is costly, and girls will eventually leave the household. A family’s only way to recover its investment in a daughter may be to have her married in exchange for a dowry. In some countries, the dowry decreases as the girl gets older, which may tempt parents to have their daughters married at younger ages. These are not necessarily heartless parents but, rather, parents who are surviving under heartless conditions. Additionally, child marriages form new alliances between tribes, clans, and villages; reinforce social ties; and stabilize vital social status. (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention)

The UNFPA report of 2005 stated:

It is no coincidence that the same countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East that have high rates of child marriage are those with:

High poverty rates, birth rates and death rates.

Greater incidence of conflict and civil strife.

Lower levels of overall development, including schooling, employment, health care.

And conversely: 

The East Asian “Miracles” like Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand that have successfully eradicated the harmful traditional practice of child marriage are characterized by:

Economic growth and opportunity.

Declines in birth and death rates.

Increase in educational and employment options for girls.

In Saudi Arabia the subject of child marriage rears its ugly head far too frequently. The most recent high-profile case was when a Saudi judge refused to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man, as the marriage contract was between the husband and the girl’s father who used his daughter to settle a debt with the man. Instead, the judge ruled that the marriage must not be consummated until she reaches puberty, when she will also be able to request a divorce.

Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabia researcher with Human Rights Watch, told CNN: “We’ve been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger, especially so when girls are traded off to older men.”

Zuhair al-Harithi, spokesman for the Saudi-government run Human Rights Commission, also said: “The Human Rights Commission opposes child marriages in Saudi Arabia. Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed.”

Under pressure the judge finally approved the divorce.

A. Faizur Rahman:

Unfortunately, Muslim jurists don’t seem to have understood these Quranic teachings. Recently the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, issued a fatwa legitimizing the marriage of girls as young as 10.  Even in India Muslim institutions including the Deoband and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board have not outlawed child marriage. Yet they congregated not once but twice to condemn terrorism. It is astonishing that those who claim an Islamic basis for their shariah disregard the primary source of Islamic law, the Quran, to the extent of overruling it through their exploitation of spurious traditions. For instance, child marriage in Islam is justified on the basis of a hadith in Bukhari which says that the Prophet married Hazrath Aisha when she was just six and consummated the marriage when she was nine.

The problem with the present day Islamic law is that most of it is not based on the spirit of the Quran. This is because of the belief of Muslim theologians (particularly the Salafi ideologues, commonly known as the Wahabis) that hadiths have an overriding effect on the Quran. One such preacher Abu Ammar Yasir Qadhi’s has the temerity to write in his book “An Introduction to the Sciences of the Quran” that the Sunnah of the prophet can abrogate the Quran. The truth is that the Quran being the locus classicus of Islam, no authority can supersede it.  Even the Prophet was commanded to judge by it (4:105, 5:49, 6:50, and 7:203).  Furthermore, as the Quran claims to be a guide for all periods, it supports the notion that any law formulated on the basis of its framework has to evolve from time to time. For this to happen the doors of ijthihad (independent interpretation) must be reopened, and the entire corpus of hadiths must be reevaluated to discredit such hadiths that are antithetical to the spirit of justice, equity and fairness embodied in Quranic universalism.

This isn’t confined to Saudi unfortunately as the case of Nujood Mohammed Ali attests. The 10-year-old Yemeni made history in 2008 when she was granted a divorce from her 30-year-old husband.

Nujood did something virtually unheard-of in Yemen: She went out by herself and took a bus and a taxi to Sana’a’s main court. All morning she waited, until a judge saw her sitting there. “I want a divorce,” Nujood told him. The story of Nujood’s audacity spread to Shada Nasser, a human rights lawyer. “I didn’t believe it,” she says. She asked why the girl needed a divorce. Nujood’s reply: “I hate the night.” Nasser agreed to take the case free of charge. “But you must smile,” she said, “and you must trust me.”

This proved to be something of a breakthrough. Legislation was passed in 2009 for a minimum age for marriage only to be scrapped due to petitions from objecting parliamentarians. But debate is continuing under pressure from various women’s groups. An indication of what reformers and campaigners are up against are the sentiments of Sheikh Abdul-Majid Al-Zindani, a Yemeni scholar who is also on the US AL-Qaeda wanted list.

“Do you want to please God or the infidels and western agendas? Do you want adultery or to protect your children in the safety of marriage?!”

Despite the ranting of hardliners, a public opinion poll implemented in late 2007 by the Yemen Polling Centre (YPC) revealed that around 66.5 percent of respondents consider the suitable marriage age for a girl is 18 years.

It would also be inaccurate not to mention that this phenomenon isn’t restricted to Muslim majority countries. A worrying percentage of marriages that occur in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and South East Asia involve teenage (or younger) girls. A 2009 UNICEF report found that 40% of the world’s child brides were married in India. Other countries where the percentage of girls married before their 18th birthday was over 40% include Nepal, Malawi, Zambia, Dominican Republicand Mozambique, none of which are Muslim majority. As another example, take Niger where 98.6% of the population are Muslim, and Turkey where the figure is 98%. The corresponding numbers for early marriage are 75% and 17% respectively. The life expectancy in Niger is 52 while in Turkey it’s 72. In Niger 65.9% are living on less than $1.25 a day (the 9th highest % globally) but only 2.6% of Turks. The literacy rate in Niger is 28.7% (the 3rd lowest in the world) whilst its Turkish equivalent is 88.7%. These are the statistics that dictate the situation not which religion they’re born into.

To further consolidate this let’s look at the other Abrahamic faiths in comparison to Islam. What do the early texts of Christianity and Judaism say on these issues of forced and child marriage?

An extract from Zahid Aziz’ writings:

The most famous marriage in Christianity is no doubt that of Mary, Jesus’ mother, with Joseph. While the following details are not in the canonical Gospels in the Bible, it appears from other early Christian writings (known as apocryphal writings) that Mary was twelve years old when the temple elders decided to find a husband for her. They selected the husband by drawing lots, and Joseph whom they chose was an elderly man, being according to some accounts ninety years old. The husband was selected and Mary was handed over to him, and she played no part in his selection.

These accounts are summed up in the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 edition, which is available online, as follows:

“It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph’s marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children … A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age, Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph …”

While the Western Christian churches may not accept these accounts as authentic, the Eastern churches in Europe do accept that Mary was 12 years old and Joseph a widower 90 years old when they married. Moreover, there is nothing in the Gospels of the New Testament to contradict these accounts, and the Gospel stories are not at all inconsistent with these ages for Mary and Joseph.

Tarek Fatah relays his findings:

The Jewish Encyclopedia had more details. According to it, rabbis reckon “the age of maturity from the time when the first signs of puberty appear, and estimated that these signs come, with women, about the beginning of the thirteenth year, and about the beginning of the fourteenth year with men. From this period one was regarded as an adult and as responsible for one’s actions to the laws of the community. In the case of females, the rabbinic law recognized several distinct stages: those of the “ḳeṭannah,” from the age of three to the age of twelve and one day; the na’arah,” the six months following that period; and the “bogeret,” from the expiration of these six months. 

A ketannah was completely subject to her father’s authority, and her father could arrange a marriage for her, whether she agreed to it or not; similarly her father could accept a divorce document (get) on her behalf. If however the father was dead, or missing, the brothers of the ketannah, collectively, had the right to arrange a marriage for her, as had her mother. 

In mediaeval times, cultural pressure within Jewish communities lead to most girls being married while they were still children – before they had become a bogeret. Indeed, anyone unmarried after the age of twenty was said to have been cursed by God; rabbinical courts frequently tried to compel an individual to marry, if they had passed the age of twenty without marriage. Effectively, child marriage became nearly obsolete in Judaism; in modern times, it is an extremely rare event, as most areas with large Jewish communities have national laws against it. 

Add to this the fact that the age of consent in England was lowered from 12 to 10 in the late 16th century, some 900 years after Aisha married Muhammad, and it becomes obvious how problematic it can be applying modern day values and standards to bygone eras. Hollywood screenwriter and television producer Kamran Pasha:

“In my novel, I have chosen to directly face the controversy over Aisha’s age by using the most contentious account, that she was nine at the time she consummated her wedding. The reason I have done this is to show that it is foolish to project modern values on another time and world. In a desert environment where life expectancy was extremely low, early marriage was not a social issue—it was a matter of survival.”

So even if we were to concede that Bukhari was correct, there is no evidence to suggest that this was disapproved of or unusual at the time, in any religion, as long as the criteria of Shariah was adhered to. In an age when life expectancy was low, girls reached physical and mental maturity at a younger age. Nature and the environment dictated this, otherwise the population would have been facing the threat of extinction within a few generations. But there is enough concrete evidence to render this Hadith unreliable at worst, and impossible in all probability.

So to summarise a rather lengthy analysis. Was Muhammad a paedophile? No. Are there genuine issues regarding forced marriages and child marriages in some Muslim countries? Yes. Is this as a result of Islam? No. Does the Qur’an and Sunnah permit forced marriages and paedophilia? No, of course not.

Is there anything we can do to raise awareness and improve the lives of girls in this situation? I have included links to some charities and organisations that deal specifically with women’s rights in Muslim countries and communities, There are also links to human rights organisations that operate in non-Muslim countries that are affected by these issues. The least we can do is read and learn. It might also help if we spent a fraction of the money we do on bombing these countries on humanitarian efforts instead. But that’s another issue.

General

http://www.sistersinislam.org.my/

http://www.wisemuslimwomen.org/

http://www.wluml.org/

Afghanistan

http://www.vwo.org.af/

http://www.womenforafghanwomen.org/

Africa

http://www.awdf.org/

Indonesia

http://www.pulih.or.id/

Iran

http://www.ikwro.org.uk/

Malaysia

http://www.musawah.org/

Nigeria

http://baobabwomen.org/

Pakistan

http://www.bedari.org.pk/

http://www.behbud.org/

Turkey

http://www.wwhr.org/

USA

http://www.mwlusa.org/

http://feminijtihad.com/

UK

http://www.mwrc.org.uk/

Yemen

http://www.soul.org.ye/default.htm

Human Rights

http://www.hrw.org/en/category/topic/women

http://www.karamah.org/

http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/

http://www.amnesty.org/

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/WelcomePage.aspx

http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain

http://www.karmanirvana.org.uk/

Sharia: The Truth

When Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that elements of Sharia law would inevitably be implemented into the British legal system a while back, there was a veritable shit-storm of gum flapping, arm waving, knee jerking and mouth frothing. From right wing tabloids to left wing feminists, from Christians and Jews, to atheists and agnostics. Ask them why and you’ll get roughly the same answer:

It’s oppressive to women, the punishments are barbaric, and it discriminates against homosexuals and non-Muslims. Before you know it we’ll all be dressing our women in burkhas, stoning people for blasphemy, erecting minarets on every street corner and sending all our bacon back to Denmark. There should be one law and one law only for every British citizen.

Point out that Sharia courts have been convening across the UK for quite a while addressing financial and marital issues, and you’ll get the creeping Sharia conspiracy thrown back at you: 

This is just the tip of the iceberg, give them an inch and they’ll take the whole country!!!

Tell them that Sharia law only applies to Muslims and the tin-foil hats are donned:

We’re already living under it. Our kids are force-fed halal food; they have Muslim only swimming pools. They’ve already got our fast food outlets and leisure centres!!

To these people diversity and the acceptance of differing cultural practices are seen as ‘us’ ‘giving in’, being a ‘soft touch’ or ‘bending over backwards’, and ‘them’ as ‘taking over’, ‘forcing their ways on us’ or ‘not integrating’.

If you come over here, you live by our rules, our values, and our culture. You adapt to us, not the other way round.

It’s a very aggressive, insular attitude fuelled by suspicion, paranoia and fear. Probably due, in part, to us being an island and possibly guilt from our past as invaders, crusaders and imperialists. Afraid of revenge from our former subjects and their allies? I digress.

The fact that the thought of Sharia law playing a part in our legal system caused horror across the political and societal divides is either evidence that, a) it is indeed a barbaric, medieval doctrine or b) we have absolutely no idea what it actually is. Having done a fair bit of research into it, subsequently hearing the way the word Sharia is used, and the context in which it’s used, it’s quite obvious that the latter is closest to the truth. If you’ve made any effort to understand objectively what Sharia is, it’s easy to tell when someone purporting to be knowledgeable is in fact totally ignorant.

I could copy and paste essays, articles and whole chapters from books explaining in detail what Sharia is, but I feel, as a layman, the simpler and easier it is to digest, the more likely a fellow layman is to read and understand it.

Literally translated, Sharia means ‘path’ or ‘way’. To add some meat to the bones I’ll quote Dr. Abdul Basit,

“The word ’ Shari’ah’ literally means “to make out or chalk out a clear road to water” but in its religious usage it translates to “the highway of good life” i.e., religious values expressed in concrete terms to guide man’s life. Thus the Shariah shows how a man is to conduct his life in order to realize the Divine Will. Therefore, it includes all aspects—spiritual, mental, and physical. It comprises faith and practice, religious duties, legal and social transactions, as well as personal behavior. All is subsumed under the Shari’ah as the comprehensive principle of the total way of life!

From ‘Understanding Sharia Law’ by Wajahat Ali & Matthew Duss of the Centre of American Progress.

Sharia is not static. Its interpretations and applications have changed and continue to change over time.

There is no one thing called Sharia. A variety of Muslim communities exist, and each understands Sharia in its own way. No official document, such as the Ten Commandments, encapsulates Sharia. It is the ideal law of God as interpreted by Muslim scholars over centuries aimed toward justice, fairness, and mercy.

Sharia is overwhelmingly concerned with personal religious observance such as prayer and fasting, and not with national laws.

In simple terms Sharia is the daily journey through life for Muslims. Every action they perform and every decision they make is carried out with this ‘path’ as a guide. This path is based on 8 principles or maqasid. With words from Dr. Robert Crane.

Respect for Divine Revelation – Classical Islamic scholars interpret this to require freedom of religion, which means that each human has the right freely to seek truth.

Respect for the Human Person and Life This principle provides guidelines for what in modern parlance is called the doctrine of just war.

Respect for Family and Community – at every level all the way to the community of humankind as an important expression of the person.

Respect for the Environment – concerns the relative priorities in protecting the environment versus protecting the other essential purposes of human life.

Respect for Economic Justice – This requires respect for the rights of private property in the means of production, which is a universal human right of every human being

Respect for Political Justice – including the concept that economic democracy is a precondition for the political democracy of representative government.

Respect for Human Dignity – This principle states that the most important requirement for individual human dignity is gender equity.  In traditional Islamic thought, freedom and equality are not ultimate ends but essential means to pursue the higher purposes inherent in the divine design of the Creator for every person.

Respect for Knowledge – The last universal or essential purpose at the root of Islamic jurisprudence is respect for knowledge.  This can be sustained only by observance of the first seven principles and also is essential to each of them.

The second-order principles of this maqsad are freedom of thought, press, and assembly so that all persons can fulfil their purpose to seek knowledge wherever they can find it.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not exactly the barbaric doctrine we’ve been conditioned to fear. They actually read like human rights guidelines. These are the principles that govern ‘Sharia Law’. The ‘law’ that calls for stoning, beheading, imprisons rape victims etc? How can this be so if the principles laid out above are adhered to? Let’s take this a step at a time and separate the ‘path’ from the ‘Fiqh’, the jurisprudence (The system of specific laws, rules and regulations, which must reflect and conform to the highest principles). The ‘Islamic Law’ of sharia is based on 4 foundations or sources.

Qur’an & Sunnah of the Prophet – derived from two sources: one being infallible and containing compressed information — the Qur’an — and another being a detailed explanation of the everyday application of the principles established in the Qur’an: The Sunnah, or the living example of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Qiyas (analogical reasoning) – the process of deductive analogy in which the teachings of the Hadith are compared and contrasted with those of the Qur’an, in order to apply a known injunction (nass) to a new circumstance and create a new injunction. Here the ruling of the Sunnah and the Qur’an may be used as a means to solve or provide a response to a new problem that may arise.

Ijma (consensus) – an Arabic term referring ideally to the consensus of the scholars of Islam.

Fiqh covers two areas, rules in relation to actions, and rules in relation to circumstances surrounding actions.

Rules in relation to actions comprise:

Obligation – eg. prayers.

Recommendation – duties recommended, but not essential; fulfilment of which is rewarded, though they may be neglected without punishment.

Permissibility – as above

Disrecommendation – is a disliked or offensive act (literally “hated”). Though it is not haram (forbidden) and therefore not a sin, a person who abstains from this action will be rewarded. Muslims are encouraged to avoid such actions when possible.

Prohibition (haraam) – In Islam it is used to refer to anything that is prohibited by the faith. Its antonym is halal.

There is no Islamic Book of Law as such.

Lena Salaymeh (a Harvard-trained lawyer now working on her doctorate in Islamic legal history at Berkeley)

In pre-colonial times, jurists—legal thinkers—would determine fiqh, the understanding of what divine law is based on their interpretation of religious texts. It’s important to note, however, that because human interpretations of divine revelation vary, and because there’s no central Islamic authority, there is no fixed legal definition of shari’ah.

There is no single school of thought on what shari’ah, or divine law, is or means—and there is no single, accepted legal code. If Islamic law were some book where you could look to it and cite to it, and say, it says right here that Western democracy is bad, then maybe that would make sense. But that’s just ridiculous…

The old interpretation chestnut. Those who prefer absolutes view it as problematic, some argue it allows greater freedom and intellectual analysis, in the right hands it could result in a fairer and more just society.

Fiqh rules are divided into four main parts:

Ibadat (on matters of worship, such as prayer, fasting, and hajj.)

Mua’malat (on dealings and transactions among people).

Hudud (punishments for crimes).

Qasas (rules of compensation for crimes)

The rule that I want to focus on is Hudud. When most people talk of Sharia it is Hudud, the penal code they have in mind. Hence the fear and paranoia whenever it is discussed. The actual meaning of the word is ‘limit’ or ‘restriction’. It is widely interpreted among progressive, reform minded Muslims that the punishments described are therefore intended as a maximum sentence that should act as a deterrent, not an automatic penalty. There is indeed Qur’anic evidence that reforming the offender should be the primary goal in Islamic law.

Ali Ashgar Engineer – Re-Thinking Islams Hudood Laws (2006)

The punishments like cutting off of hands for theft or stoning adulterer or adulteress to death existed before advent of Islam and the Qur’an retained them but also exhorted the believers to stress reforming rather than punishing. Islah and tauba are more important than mere punishment. Punishments are meant for unrepentant and hardened criminals not for any and everyone. For example the verse 5:38 about cutting off hands is followed by the verse 5:39 which stipulates, “But whoever repents after his wrongdoing and reforms, Allah will turn to him (mercifully). Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” Thus emphasis here is on reforming and repentance and this is possible before the punishment like cutting off hands is brought about.

Thus before meeting out such drastic punishment all possible efforts should be made for reforming the offender so that he does not repeat the crime and also extenuating circumstances will have to be taken into account as to why the person was compelled to commit the crime. The Qur’an lays repeated emphasis on justice thus implying that one has to establish a just socio-economic system before implementing such harsh punishments.

That is why Hazrat Umar suspended the punishment for cutting off hands during the period of famine. Also, in another case the Prophet (PBUH) reprimanded the owner of the orchard rather than punishing the child when he complained to the Prophet (PBUH) that the child had stolen fruits from the tree when the Prophet found out that he was paying almost starvation wages to the child. A crime committed out of need should be distinguished from one committed out of greed.

There are a number of crucial issues that need to be understood before being able to fully appreciate how the punishments meted out in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Nigeria, for example, have deviated so far from the classical principles detailed above.

It needs to be stressed that the culture of Ijtihad in Islamic jurisprudence has been more or less dormant since the end of the Golden Age of Islam around 7 centuries ago. Ijtihad is the practice of critical thought or reasoning by jurists, which allowed for intellectual interpretation. Instead Sharia law has been subject to Taqlid, meaning imitation, following blindly or being led by the collar, since the 14th century. This means that Islamic jurists have been adhering to interpretations and rulings that originate from medieval times, with little or no analytical thought process. There are many theories as to why this has happened, but it’s no coincidence that the Crusades, the Mongol expansion and the increasing power of politicians saw the imprisonment of Islam’s foremost intellects due to their influence on jurisprudence. This put an end to the great tradition of intellectual thought and thinkers, and Arabic society’s pre-Islamic patriarchal culture became dominant once again. It is only relatively recently that the inequality in Islamic law and clear human rights issues have brought the calls for a return to Ijtihad and the reforming of Islamic society.

Ali Asghar Engineer again.

Islam and human rights is much debated issue and most of the scholars agree that Islam not only conforms to the norms of human rights but also is precursor in this field.

But many practices among Muslims raises many questions which have to be satisfactorily answered in the light of today’s human rights norms. The hudood laws as enforced in many Muslim countries today give rise to this dilemma.

The hudood laws are undoubtedly based on the Qur’anic pronouncements but are as much result of human interpretations and human reasoning.

There are many reasons for this. The Muslim world is socially quite backward and intellectual levels of common people are not high. Medieval way of thinking persists among Muslims throughout the Muslim countries though a section of Muslim intelligentsia is in favour of social change and hence desires ijtihad. But since overwhelming number of Muslims cannot rise to those intellectual standards they resist any change and vehemently oppose any change.

To demonstrate how modern thinking and critical analysis could influence Islamic jurisprudence Ali Asghar Engineer goes on to write this:

It is also important to note that one should read all the verses on hudood punishments before coming to any conclusion about the nature of the punishment. Take cutting off hands, for example. Does it mean really cutting off the hands of a thief physically? If we take another verse of similar nature in the Chapter on Yusuf i.e. 12:31 which says, “So when she heard of their device, she sent for them and prepared for them a repast, and gave each of them a knife and said (to Joseph): Come out to them. So when they saw him, they deemed him great, and cut their hands (wa qatta’ana aydiyahunna) (in amazement), and said: Holy Allah! This is not a mortal. This is but a noble angel.”

Obviously here the words wa qatta’ana aydiyahunna does not mean they literally cut off their hands but that they injured their hands. If we similarly read the verse 5:38 it would not mean cut off hands of thieves but symbolically injure their hands so that they remember it and do not repeat the crime in future. It should not mean cutting off the palm of the thief and render him afflicted for life.

Also, we must read it in conjunction with the verse 5:33 wherein the minimum punishment for dacoity is imprisonment (aw yunfauna in al-ard). Thus when the minimum punishment for dacoity is imprisonment how can the punishment for a lesser crime i.e. theft could be cutting off hands. Thus the word qat’a should be interpreted not literally but differently. In Arabic when they say qata’a lisanahu it does not mean they cut off his tongue but it means they silenced him.

At the most qat’a yad could be taken as an exemplary punishment for a very serious crime and ordinarily such punishment should not be inflicted for less serious crime. Instead efforts should be made, as pointed out above, to reform the person. Unfortunately the Islamic world has interpreted this verse quite mechanically and have not read it along with other verses on this subject and neither have they tried to seen it in the overall context of the Islamic philosophy and values as pointed out above. Thus there is need to revise the law particularly in the modern context where human dignity and human rights have central place.

Another debatable had punishment is stoning the adulterer or adulteress to death which is known as rajm punishment. The Qur’an of course does not mention this punishment at all. The Qur’an mentions only flogging for zina. Thus we read in the verse 24:2 “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by God, if ye believe in God and the last Day: And let a party of the believers witness their punishment.”

I hoped not to do too much copy and pasting, but I felt that the above extract illustrated perfectly how analysis and interpretation can be key. It also acts as proof that if the two primary sources for Islamic law are the Qur’an and Sunnah, stoning should play no part in the system.

Tariq Ramadan wrote the following in his call for a moratorium on corporal punishment.

Tariq Ramadan – Stop, in the Name of Humanity!

There is today a quadruple crisis of closed and repressive political systems, religious authorities promoting contradictory requirements and uneducated populations swept up with more a feeling of religious fervour and passion than true reflection. These facts cannot legitimize our silence. We are accomplices and guilty when women and men are punished, stoned or executed in the name of a formalist application of the scriptural sources.

We are convinced that reflection and the evolution in thinking are possible only from an internal societal dynamic.
For this to occur, we are advancing three arguments:

1. Muslim scholars are not in agreement on the interpretations given to the texts upon which these practices are based, nor do they agree on the required conditions in which they would be applicable. It is necessary, therefore, to have an open debate to immediately suspend these practices as there is no consensus on the matter.

2. The application of the hudud laws today is used by repressive powers to abuse women, the poor and political opponents within a quasi-legal vacuum and with a total disrespect for human dignity. The Muslim conscience cannot accept these denials of justice.

3. Muslim populations, who often do not have direct access to the texts, let themselves be swept away by a fascination that devotion to Islam means a strict and visible display of punishment, or an opposition to the West, of which they often have a stereotypical image. It is necessary to resist these irrational formalistic drifts that legitimize all forms of oppression.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to take these factors into consideration. Muslims, Islam or Sharia are not inherently evil. The fact is that uneducated populations are being oppressed and manipulated by governments & conservative clerics in pursuit of their own personal ideals, and the retention of power and influence. Surely we in the West can’t be blind to this through naivety? Even in our supposedly civilised societies we have enough examples of political corruption, misguided religious fanaticism, travesties of justice, institutionalised sexism, biased media coverage, war criminals and human rights abusers etc. Has Islamophobia become so pervasive, has the fearmongering been so convincing that even educated, intelligent and liberal westerners have been duped into accepting the ‘Sharia Threat’ conspiracy, and take it’s legitimacy at face value?

In the USA at least 13 states have recently introduced legislature banning the use of  international or foreign law, specifically for the purpose of negating the perceived threat of Sharia. Many more are also seeking to implement such a ruling. Bearing in mind that, as explained above, Sharia encompasses all aspects of Muslim life, these states are effectively making being a practicing Muslim illegal. Some right wing hatemongers are even calling for any Muslims practicing Sharia to be charged with sedition, and a bill proposed in Tennessee would make following Sharia a felony. Technically this could mean a 15 year jail sentence for praying to Allah, donating to charity, or observing Ramadan. Either we’re witnessing ignorance on a truly monumental scale, or a genuine, unashamed attempt to force Muslims out of communities.

I’ve intentionally avoided a discussion on whether religion should be allowed to have any influence on the legal system at all. I’ve also steered clear of introducing Jewish Halakha, Beth Din courts and Catholic Cannon Law to the discussion to keep the word count down! My only intention is to highlight the overwhelming ignorance that exists regarding Islamic law, not just the misuse of the word Sharia, but the principles that underpin it. Far from being a ‘legal-political-military doctrine’ as it’s been described, the basic principles at its heart could justifiably be used as a blueprint for an ethical and righteous lifestyle. You will constantly hear Islamophobes in the guise of conservative Christians, Zionists, neo-cons, racists or secularists, all saying that Sharia is not compatible with western democracy and civilised society. My reply to them would be, firstly, they over estimate how civil western society is, and secondly, they really need to read my blog!

**I strongly advise that everyone read these recent articles regarding the issue of Islamic law. All reproduced by the good people at Loonwatch. They explain far more thoroughly and articulately than myself how absurd and pointless the objections are.**

http://www.loonwatch.com/2011/04/wajahat-ali-understanding-sharia-law/

http://www.loonwatch.com/2011/04/legislators-introducing-anti-sharia-bills-dont-know-anything-about-sharia/

http://www.loonwatch.com/2011/04/upset-over-nothing-salon-com-debunks-latest-sharia-scare/

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