FaithWorld

Guardian blogger picks up on “takfir” where we left off

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah during an interview with Reuters in Beirut, 5 Sept. 2007/Jamal SaidiThanks to Haroon Siddique over at the Guardian newsblog for doing some work I left unfinished last week. On Feb. 26, I wrote a post about a leading Muslim seminary in India declaring terrorism to be un-Islamic and noted that the news got almost no coverage in western media. “So the statement, which was backed by several thousand Islamic scholars, looks like it will end up like the tree that falls in the forest with nobody around to hear it,” the post added. The next day, our Beirut bureau reported that Lebanon’s Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah — one of the most respected clerics in Shi’ite Islam — had denounced the practice of Muslims charging others with non-belief as “one of the most dangerous issues” faced by the Muslim world. This practice, called takfir in Arabic, is used by radical Islamists as a justification for killing other Muslims.

As soon as I saw the report, I thought this would probably be another tree falling in the forest unheard and bookmarked it to wait to see if it would be picked up. Other demands got in the way and then other blog subjects came up, so the takfir post didn’t even make it to the falling tree stage in the blogosphere. This happens more frequently than I like, but we can’t cover everything.

Now Siddique has come to the rescue with his post “Who’s listening to the Muslim moderates?” A few excerpts:

How many times have we read or heard calls for moderate Muslims to speak out about wrongs supposedly carried out in the name of Islam?

Politicians including Tony Blair and various commentators – here’s a Telegraph leader - have urged the moderate voice of Islam to make itself heard above the din of extremist preachers.

Looking past the blood at Ashura

A Pakistani Shi’ite at Ashura rituals in Lahore, Pakistan, 20 Jan. 2008/Mohsin RazaAshura, the Shi’ite day of mourning for Mohammad’s martyred grandson Hussein, is so marked by bloody scenes of self-flagellating men that news reports about it rarely get beyond the vivid images (like our photo from Lahore on the right). Jack Fairweather has produced a fascinating short video that asks the question usually missed — what really motivates people to do this? — and follows one man who explains his feelings and joins in the ritual. This is the first part of a series on the Washington Post PostGlobal site meant “to challenge our perceptions of Islam as a monolithic and extremist creed.” If Fairweather keeps it as up close and personal as this, it should be very good.

Not your usual Christmas card — Muslim leaders greet Christians

Memon Mosque in Karachi, Pakistan, 9 Oct 2007Christmas greetings of peace on Earth and good will to all — what could be more common during this holiday season? It’s heard so much that it’s practically a cliché. But this familiar tune takes on a new tone when the greetings come from leading Muslim scholars, clerics and intellectuals. The same group of 138 Muslims that invited Christians to a theological dialogue last October has just sent its Christmas greetings to the Christian world (see the text and our news story). What struck me the most about it is that it was even sent at all.

As a decentralised religion with no single leader or leadership group to speak for it, Islam (1.3 billion faithful around the world) has always been “structurally disadvantaged” in comparison to Christianity. The world’s largest religion (2 billion) has one highly centralised church, Roman Catholicism (1.1 billion), led by a highly visible pope. Other large Christian families like the Orthodox (220 million), Anglicans (77 million) and the many different Protestant denominations all have clearly defined leaders who can speak for the faithful. The absence of such figures in Islam has allowed a wide variety of pretenders to claim to speak in the name of Muslims. To put it in terms of the current season, they couldn’t all send a Christmas card to Pope Benedict or Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew or Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams because they had no forum for getting together to do so. Individual sheikhs, muftis, imams or mosque rectors might send their greetings to a friendly local bishop, vicar, preacher or priest they knew personally, but there wasn’t exactly heavy traffic.

Muslim judges at a conference on Sharia law in Amman, 3 Sept. 2007The group of 138 that issued the appeal called A Common Word is changing that. Representing Sunnis, Shi’ites, Sufis and other schools of Islam, they can claim more than anyone else to speak for large numbers of Muslims. Sure, we can’t say how many they represent. Of course, they are a mixed group. Naturally, they don’t all agree on everything. And yes, there may be disputes within the group, maybe defections and additions as it develops. But they are from a broad spectrum of Islam and have organised themselves enough to first send a response to Pope Benedict’s Regensburg lecture (back when they were only 38), then propose a dialogue with the Christian world (which the major churches have accepted) and now send these Christmas greetings. Non-Muslim cynics might scoff that signing a Christmas greeting is not all that difficult. But anyone who knows anything about Islam can see this is a significant new step.

Iraq state TV to broadcast Sunni and Shi’ite Friday prayers

Umm al-Qura mosque, Oct. 10, 2006Iraq’s state television channel Iraqiya plans to broadcast Friday prayers from both Shi’ite and Sunni mosques, a novelty in a country where until now Islamic services were only shown on sectarian channels. That kept the two neatly separate. Rather than take either side, Iraqiya avoided broadcasting Friday prayers after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But it began today with a live transmission from the Sunni Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad.

Station manager Nawfal Abd Dahash told Reuters in Baghdad: “We will start doing live broadcasts from mosques from both sects. This is to enhance national unity and to prove that there is no difference between Shi’ites and Sunnis.”

The broadcast came from the Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliya, which until a few months ago was a stronghold for al Qaeda Sunni Islamists. It also came at a time when Sunni communities in many parts of Iraq are taking up arms to drive out the Islamists.