FaithWorld

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan agrees to sharia law to end Swat fighting

Pakistan has agreed to introduce sharia law in the Swat valley and neighbouring areas of the north-west in a peace deal with Taliban militants. Religious conservatives in Swat have long fought for sharia to replace Pakistan's secular laws, which came into force after the former princely state was absorbed into the Pakistani federation in 1969. The government apparently hopes that by signing a peace deal in Swat it can drive a wedge between conservative hardliners and Islamist militants whose influence has been spreading from the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan into Pakistan proper.

Critics are already saying the deal will encourage Taliban militants fighting elsewhere in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and could threaten the integrity of the country itself. Britain's Guardian newspaper quotes Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a think-tank in Islamabad, as calling the peace deal a surrender to the Taliban. It also quotes Javed Iqbal, a retired judge, as saying, "It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding."

News of the peace deal followed an acknowledgement by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari that the Taliban had "a presence in huge amounts of land" in Pakistan and were trying to take over the country. In an interview with CBS, he said Pakistan was fighting to survive.

The militants in Swat had been pushing for the enforcement of a hardline version of Islamic law. They had already banned female education, outlawed music and dancing, and carried out summary executions.

According to Pakistan's Daily Times the peace deal envisages a more moderate interpretation of sharia, seen by many of the people in Swat as more efficient than the country's bureaucratic secular judiciary, and also includes a commitment to reopen girls' schools. But it questions whether this moderate interpretation will survive. 

Islamic finance sector needs more sharia scholars

Articles about Islamic finance are usually long on finance and short on Islam. Knowing that the various schools of Islam can interpret and apply sharia in different ways, I recently wondered how this looked in the financial sector, especially since Islamic banking has spread in recent years and non-Muslim institutions and investors were getting into the business. A conference on Islamic banking in France brought several sharia scholars to Paris, so I took the opportunity to interview them for the news story posted here.

While the financial side wants as much standardisation as possible, the scholars insist it would be un-Islamic to impose rules that apply fully around the world. So rulings from the sharia boards of financial institutions can differ, although the existence of voluntary standards — such as those worked out by the Accounting and Auditing Organisation for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) in Bahrain — has helped to harmonise them. Also, the fact that individual scholars sit on several sharia boards at the same time brings a certain conformity.

But, as Mufti Barkatulla told me, there are not enough young scholars entering the field. A sharia board needs a minimum of three members and can have up to 10, depending on its workload, he said. The problem is that acquiring the needed knowledge can take years. Barkatulla himself was a sharia judge at London’s Central Mosque for 30 years, mostly ruling on family issues such as divorce, before getting involved in Islamic finance five years ago. Like him, Sheikh Nizam Yaquby of Bahrain, another scholar at the Paris conference, continues to decide such family cases in addition to his work in the world of finance.

Exercised over yoga in Malaysia

Of all the things to get exercised about, yoga would seem to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But such has been the case in Malaysia this week.

Malaysia’s prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.

It has been a tough month for the fatwa council chairman, Abdul Shukor Husin, who in late October issued an edict against young women wearing trousers, saying that was a slippery path to
lesbianism. Gay sex is outlawed in Malaysia.

French “virginity lie” couple lose appeal, remain married

A court has declared France’s “virginity lie” couple to be legally married, despite their appeal to annul their nuptial vows because the wife turned out not to be the virgin she had claimed to be. The case caused an uproar a few months ago because they were initially granted an annulment on the grounds that she had lied about an “essential quality” necessary for the marriage contract. The case was argued as if the issue were simply about a business contract where one party had lied about the goods being delivered, and the first court accepted it on those grounds.

But the background — that the two were Muslims of North African origin and the man considered her virginity a condition for marrying the woman — sparked off a loud debate about whether the court was allowing Muslim traditions or sharia provisions to creep into French jurisprudence. “A real fatwa for women’s liberation … (like) a ruling handed down in Kandahar” was a memorable comment from Fadela Amara, the state secretary for urban affairs who comes from an Algerian Muslim family.

After initially supporting the couple, Justice Minister Rachida Dati — who is herself from a North African Muslim background and had a marriage annulled years ago — came under political pressure to oppose it and finally asked the public prosecutor to lodge an appeal against the annulment. This appeal against the annulment is what was upheld in the court in Douai in northern France on Monday. So the couple, who split up on their wedding night when the husband walked out on her and told the story to guests still partying at the reception downstairs, remains married despite their efforts to be unmarried. They will now have to go through the normal divorce procedure to undo what was effectively a marriage of only a few hours.

Sharia scholars oppose more regulation on Islamic finance

At a time when many critics are calling for tighter regulation of the worldwide financial industry, Muslim scholars are saying that Islamic finance cannot be more tightly controlled for theological reasons. The Islamic finance industry has long been marked by divergent interpretations of Sharia, or Islamic law. (Photo: Traders at Saudi Investment Bank in Riyadh, 8 Oct 2008)

Now, amid calls for standardisation, the scholars say the Islamic concept of ijtihad — reasoning to reassess  sharia in light of modern developments– bars any tighter regulation or coordination of this $1 trillion industry.

It’s rare that religious scholars get to dictate terms to business, but this might be one because Islamic finance is expressly built upon the principle of sharia compliance.

Off with their heads — Saudi clerics blast racy Ramadan TV

Ramadan television always throws up some controversy or talking point in the Arab world, but never of the nature of this year’s talking point. Hardline Saudi religious scholars are saying enough’s enough on the fun and frolics of Ramadan television and demanding trials for TV channel owners that could impose the death penalty.

MBC logoWhat’s more, these owners are in fact Saudi royals and their friends. The main culprit is MBC1, owned by a brother-in-law of former King Fahd, but others include billionaire playboy prince Alwaleed bin Talal, dubbed by the religious right in Saudi Arabia “the shameless prince” (al-amir al-majin). The clerics in Saudi Arabia have enormous influence and they are worried that liberals in government and their royal allies are plotting to caste them aside and secularise the country.

It is unlikely that Alwaleed or the family of Fahd’s sister are worried about the attacks. They live in a world apart of palaces, servants, private planes and cruise ships in France and probably no one could get near them if they tried. The clerics were careful to talk about a legal process in any case. In fact, one of them, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, said specifically that he wasn’t calling for vigilantes to take the law into their own hands.

Is Turkey facing Khomeini-style return of Islamic leader?

A poster of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, 4 June 2001/Damir SagoljIs Turkey heading towards a Khomeini-style return of its most influential Islamic leader? Turkish media asked the question today after the Court of Appeals upheld the acquittal of Fethullah Gülen on charges of plotting to establish shariah law in the officially secular state. Gülen, who lives in the United States, has millions of followers in Turkey and abroad who support his modern and moderate form of Islam and the schools and media he has set up to propagate it. This week, he came out on top of a Foreign Policy magazine poll of the world’s leading public intellectuals. That was an Internet survey, so it can’t be considered scientific, but the flood of votes for him is a rough indicator of wide and/or well-organised support.

“After the last verdict, there are two questions to be asked: Is Gülen going to come back to Turkey? If he does, it is going to be a Khomeini-style homecoming?” the centre-right daily Aksam asked. Hürriyet, a popular nationalist daily, hinted at a return in a report saying that his U.S. green card appeal had been rejected and he had one month to leave the country.

It’s an interesting thought, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll come back. The secularist establishment, including high-ranking army generals and intellectuals, still suspect him of trying to destroy the secular state. Just because he’s been acquitted in this case doesn’t mean another couldn’t be brought against him.

Ex-diplomat Cardinal Tauran pulls no punches now

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, 25 Nov 2005/Jameson WuCardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has apparently left diplomacy behind in his past life. The cardinal is now the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, and as such, Pope Benedict’s point man for relations with all non-Christian religions except for Judaism.

From 1975 to 2003, Tauran was often a tight-lipped Vatican diplomat. He did his job so well he ended his previous life as Secretary for Relations with States, effectively the
Vatican’s foreign minister and number three position in the Secretariat of State.

When he left that job, the Frenchman was briefly Archivist of Holy Roman Church and kept a mostly low profile.

NYT has second thoughts about “Sharia smear” on Obama

New York Times front page, 1 June 2008Thank you, Clark Hoyt. The public editor (ombudsman) of the New York Times has torn apart Edward Luttwak’s op-ed piece on Barack Obama supposedly being a Muslim apostate, right in the Grey Lady’s pages. In his Public Editor column on Sunday, Hoyt called it “a single, extreme point of view” and said the NYT should not simply publish opinion pieces based on patently false facts. We blogged about this last week when a leading Muslim scholar refuted Luttwak’s article. Luttwak is a military historian and  conservative analyst of strategic issues who has advised the U.S. military, National Security Council and State Department. He lists his fields of expertise as “geoeconomics, strategy and national strategies and military policies” but not Islam.

“The Times Op-Ed page, quite properly, is home to a lot of provocative opinions,” Hoyt wrote. “But all are supposed to be grounded on the bedrock of fact. Op-Ed writers are entitled to emphasize facts that support their arguments and minimize others that don’t. But they are not entitled to get the facts wrong or to so mangle them that they present a false picture.”

Hoyt said he consulted five Islamic scholars at U.S. universities and “all of them said that Luttwak’s interpretation of Islamic law was wrong.” When the Times asked Luttwak to defend his view, he sent them an analysis of it by an unnamed scholar of Muslim law. He disagreed with Luttwak so strongly that he wrote to him: “You seem to be describing some anarcho-utopian version of Islamic legalism, which has never existed, and after the birth of the modern nation state will never exist.”

Muslim scholar responds to “Sharia smear” against Obama

Obama speaks at First Congregation/Carlos Barriaal United Church of Christ in Mason City, Iowa, 16 Dec 2007Two recent op-ed articles in the United States presented Barack Obama as a “Muslim apostate” according to “Muslim law as it is universally understood.” Since Muslims were bound to see him as an apostate, they argued, the potential next president could be seen as “al Qaeda’s candidate” because Islamists could whip up popular anger in the Muslim world by portraying him as a turncoat heading a Western war against Islam. He also risked assassination, one suggested, because Muslim law considers apostasy a crime worthy of the death sentence and bars punishment for any Muslim who kills an apostate.

There were many generalisations about Islam in these two articles, one by Edward Luttwak in the New York Times and the other by Shireen K. Burki in the Christian Science Monitor. There is no one code of Muslim law, as Luttwak (who is a strategic analyst not previously known for his mastery of Islamic jurisprudence) or Burki (who we’re told “studied Islam at school” in Pakistan) want unsuspecting readers to believe. Few Muslim countries have death for apostates on their books, and even fewer actually carry it out. This is not meant to defend any law about apostasy, which is an individual right, but just to state a few facts.

Most important of all, Obama never tires of saying that he is a committed Christian and has never practiced the religion that his father (who left his son when he was 2 years old) no longer practiced either. The fact these articles appeared amid an “Obama-is-a-Muslim” whispering campaign in an election year makes a good case for suspecting they may have been motivated more by political strategy than legal scholarship. A lot of the 368 comments on Luttwak’s article assume that’s the case. Call it the “Sharia smear.”