FaithWorld

Tahir ul-Qadri and the difficulty of reporting on fatwas

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Muhammed Tahir ul-Qadri at a youth camp in Coventry, central England, August 9, 2009/Kieran Doherty

It never was and may never be easy to report about fatwas for a world audience. This point was driven home once again today when a prominent Islamic scholar presented to the media his new 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri is a Pakistani-born Sufi scholar whose youth workshops fostering moderation and understanding in Britain had already caught our attention. His effort to knock down any and every argument in favour of violence is certainly welcome. But the back story to this event is so complicated that it’s hard to report on the fatwa without simply ignoring many important parts of this back story.

Part of the problem was the PR drumroll leading up to ul-Qadri’s news conference.  Minhaj-ul-Quran, his international network to spread his Sufi teachings, touted this fatwa in an email to journalists a week ago as a unique event “because at no time in history has such an extensively researched and evidenced work been presented by such a prominent Islamic authority.” Hype like this usually prompts journalists to throw an invitation straight into the trash can. man reads koran

A Yemeni man reads the Koran at the Grand Mosque in Sanaa, January 7, 2010/Ahmed Jadallah

Two days later, on February 25, the pitch was changed to present this document as “the first ever fatwa against terrorism which declares terrorists as disbelievers.” Now, that’s more likely to grab a busy journalist’s attention. But once it has accomplished that, any hack with any experience covering Islam finds two big problems with this description.

A “model” Islamic education from Turkey?

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Turkish girls at the Kazim Karabekir Girls' Imam-Hatip School, 10 Feb 2010/Murad Sezer

In the Beyoglu Anadolu religious school in Istanbul, gilded Korans line the shelves and on a table lies a Turkish translation of “Eclipse,” a vampire-based fantasy romance by U.S. novelist Stephanie Meyer. No-one inside the school would have you believe this combination of Islamic and western influences demonstrates potential to serve as a ‘moderate’ educational antidote to radical Islam.

But there is fresh outside interest in schools like this, which belong to the network known as imam-hatip.  Some people, particularly officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan, have suggested the Turkish system can light the way to a less extremist religious education for their young Muslims.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“My Life with the Taliban” – on study and Islamic values

zaeefIn  "My Life with the Taliban",  Abdul Salam Zaeef -- who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 -- writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.

"It is work that has no connection with the world's affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind," he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.

Zaeef became best known as the Taliban ambassador to Islamabad at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks -- he was then arrested and sent to Guantanamo -- and his memoirs provide a unique insight into the developments which led to the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan.  That alone makes it a must-read, providing an alternative and very personal account to set alongside Western concepts of the Taliban -- more closely associated with their human rights record, their treatment of women, and their refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States after 9/11.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Comparing Pakistan’s Islamists to India’s Maoists

chhattisgarhOne of the more controversial arguments doing the rounds is the question of whether you can compare Pakistan's Islamist militants to Maoist insurgents in India. Both claim to champion the cause of social justice and have been able to exploit local grievances against poor governance to win support, and both use violence against the state to try to achieve their aims.

The differences are obvious:  the Islamist militants come from the religious right; the Maoists from the far-left. In Pakistan, the militants have become powerful enough to strike at the heart of the country's major cities. In India, the Maoists remain largely confined to the country's interiors, although their influence is spreading through large parts of its rural hinterland.

In Pakistan, the military initially nurtured Islamist militants to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan - with U.S. and Saudi support - and later to fight India in Kashmir. In India, the Maoist movement has grown organically from its origins as a local 1967 uprising by communists over a land dispute in the village of  Naxalbari in West Bengal, from where its followers derive their name as Naxalites.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Do five Americans detained in Pakistan really prove a trend?

lahore mosqueThe arrest of five young Americans in Pakistan who according to Pakistani officials wanted to go to fight U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan has, perhaps predictably, increased fears of radicalisation within parts of the United States own Muslim community.

It follows the arrest in Chicago of David Headley, who police say scouted out targets for last year's attack on Mumbai, and discussed with Pakistan-based militant groups plans for attacks in Denmark and India; and also comes after  last month's Fort Hood shooting in which 13 people died.

U.S. newspapers have been quick to see a pattern.  "New Cases Test Optimism on Extremism by U.S. Muslims," declared the New York Times. Or according to the L.A. Times headline: "U.S. sees homegrown Muslim extremism as rising threat."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba and the power of religion

Following up on earlier posts here and here about Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), I've been looking closely at the arrest in Chicago on anti-terrorism charges of two men linked to LeT and accused of plotting attacks in Denmark.

Analysts say the Chicago case demonstrates the global reach of the militant group and its ability to plot attacks in India and around the world. The court documents submitted by U.S. authorities also allege that Lashkar-e-Taiba had suggested that attacks on India be given priority over the planned attack in Denmark, highlighting the threat still posed by the group one year after Mumbai.

As discussed in this factbox, analysts cite several reasons for Pakistan's reluctance to dismantle Lashkar-e-Taiba. These include its role in Kashmir and in India-Pakistan rivalry, and popular support for the humanitarian work of its Jamaat ud-Dawa sister organisation. They also cite an unwillingness to create a new enemy right now when Pakistan is already fighting the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan and facing a wave of reprisal attacks in its cities. Lashkar-e-Taiba is the only Pakistani militant group which is not believed to have been involved in attacking targets within Pakistan itself.

Pew maps the Muslim world

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life just released a demographic study of the Muslim world it says is “the largest project of its kind to date.” Click here http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=450 to see the report ”Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population.”

SAUDI/PILGRIMAGE-ECONOMY/

The report drew on data from 232 countries and territories and involved Pew researchers working with nearly 50 demographers and social scientists around the world. It is certainly a useful reference for anyone interested in the Islamic world. (PHOTO: Hundreds of thousands of Muslims pray inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca Sept. 15, 2009. REUTERS/Susan Baahil)

Among its highlights:

World Council of Churches says Pakistani Christians “live in fear”

pakistani-christians-1Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan live in fear of persecution and even execution or murder on false charges of blasphemy against Islam, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has said. The Council, the Geneva- based global body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches in 110 countries, has called on the Pakistani government to change a law promulgated by military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq that allows for the death penalty for blaspheming Islam. (Photo: Christians in destroyed home in Gojra, 2 Aug 2009/Mohsin Raza)

Since the law was adopted in 1986 religious minorities in the country have been “living in a state of fear and terror … and many innocent people have lost their lives,” the WCC said in a statement.

Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country where religious minorities account for roughly 4 percent — three quarters of whom are Christians — of its 170 million people.

from Global News Journal:

Who is funding the Afghan Taliban? You don’t want to know

U.S. soldiers (L) and an Afghan policeman keep watch near a building which is held by the Taliban in Logar, south of Kabul August 10, 2009. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

The article by Jean MacKenzie originally appeared in GlobalPost. This is part of a special series by GlobalPost called Life, Death and The Taliban. Click here for a related article Funding the Pakistani Taliban.

KABUL — It is the open secret no one wants to talk about, the unwelcome truth that most prefer to hide. In Afghanistan, one of the richest sources of Taliban funding is the foreign assistance coming into the country.

Religion, poverty and strife: what comes first?

An uprising by a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria may ostensibly have been about religion, but such bloodletting will recur unless underlying issues of poverty, unemployment and education are addressed.

West African Islam is overwhelmingly moderate and northern Nigeria is home to a powerful political elite, yet militant cleric Mohammed Yusuf was able to establish a cult-like following. Yusuf’s sect, Boko Haram, wanted sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation. Its name means “Western education is sinful”.

But the support Yusuf drummed up — from illiterate youths to professionals who quit jobs and families to join him — came as much from frustration with what is seen as a corrupt and self-serving political establishment as from pure religious fervour.