Posted: 24 Mar 2011 07:38 AM PDT. This opinion piece appeared in The Age newspaper of March 25, 2011
THOSE who denounce critics of Islam should allow that, like all global faiths, Islam has its detractors and a religion will be judged on what its followers say and do.
There is a debate going on about Islam. The question being asked is: Does Islam itself - not just poverty or social exclusion - provide ideological fuel for extremism and violence?
It is all too tempting to promote one-dimensional explanations of religious violence. Monash University doctoral candidate Rachel Woodlock said on this page on Wednesday that social exclusion was the root of Islamic radicalism.
On one hand, there are those who, like Woodlock, demand that critics of Islam be stigmatised as ignorant, right-wing racists. On the other hand, Islam's problems cannot be simplistically reduced to social or economic factors.
Violence in the name of Islam is well-attested in nations in which Muslims are dominant, and it is non-Muslim minorities that suffer the exclusion. It does not do to argue that religion has no relevance to such events.
In Muslim-majority Pakistan on December 3, Pakistani imam Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, in his Friday sermon, offered a $6000 bounty to anyone who would murder Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who has also been accused of "blaspheming Allah". Pakistani minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salman Taseer were subsequently assassinated because of their opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
These laws are supported by Pakistan's Islamic elites. The killer of Salman Taseer, Mumtaz Qadri, was praised by religious leaders from mainstream schools of Pakistani Islam, and when he was being led to court on January 6, 400 Muslim lawyers showered him with rose petals, offering him their legal services free of charge.
There has also been a rush of recent assaults on Copts and their places of worship in Egypt, sparked by a wild tirade by a leading Egyptian cleric.
Closer to Australia, there have been well-publicised attacks on Ahmadiyah Muslims in Indonesia, including brutal murders. These were undoubtedly influenced by a theological belief that Ahmadiyah adherents are apostates from true Islam. Although prominent Indonesian leaders were quick to express abhorrence for the attacks, many Indonesian Muslims have called for Ahmadiyahs to be outlawed.
These events demonstrate the ugly effects of stigmatising minorities, and it would be deplorable to simple-mindedly extrapolate the religious views of Pakistani, Egyptian or Indonesian Muslims and apply them to Australia.
However, it is irrational to insist that any and everyone who seeks to expose the religious roots of such hatred must themselves be decried as haters.
All over the world, every religious belief is disliked by someone or other. Christianity has its prominent detractors, too, from Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins. A Google search for "Evils of Christianity" yields tens of thousands of hits.
Australians can be thankful for a culture of tolerance, which has been carefully nurtured over decades. Tolerance is strengthened when people are able to debate ideological issues freely - especially those which impact profoundly on human rights - without being shouted down.
Victorian Supreme Court Justice Geoffrey Nettle, in his findings on the case of the Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the Fire, pointed out that criticism - or even hatred - of a religion should not be conflated with the hatred of people who hold those beliefs. It is one thing to promote tolerance, quite another to mandate it.
Perhaps the most powerful evidence against Woodlock's thesis - that it is exclusion, and not religion, that drives some Muslims to terrorism - is the fact that across the globe the most diverse religious minorities do not resort to violence, even when persecuted.
There are no Falun Gong terrorists in China, despite all the bitter persecution. The same can be said for persecuted Christians in many nations.
Even in Australia, many ethnic and religious groups have been subjected to disadvantage and exclusion, but none have produced the level of terrorist convictions of our own home-grown Islamic radicals.
It is a bitter pill for the vast majority of Australian Muslims to swallow that their faith has been linked, globally and locally, to religious violence.
Unfortunately, this link cannot be dismissed as the product of media prejudice or "Islamophobic" propaganda. It is in part an issue of some Muslims behaving very badly, and their often strident claim is that they do this in the name of religion.
Taking such claims seriously and debating them publicly must not be equated with stigmatising law-abiding and peaceable Australian Muslims.
Mark Durie is a Melbourne Anglican vicar, human rights activist, and author of The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom.
The Mufti of Egypt Stands up for Christians - Or Does He?
Posted: 24 Mar 2011 07:30 AM PDT
In the context of the recent outpouring of hatred and violence against the Copts, and specifically the destruction of the ancient church in Soul, the Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Gomaa (or Jum'a) has issued a fatwa condemning violence against Christians and their places of worship. A report on this fatwa was published by youm7.com, a popular Egyptian news site, on March 12, 2011.
Fatwas are opinions issued by someone with a recognized authority in Islam. They are not binding, but may be used to guide Muslims. The Mufti of Egypt heads the Dar al-Ifta or 'Fatwa Institute' in Egypt, which regularly issues thousands of rulings on a myriad of topics. This particular fatwa was issued by this same office (see here).
In the context of discussing his fatwas on the status of Christians, it is important to note that Ali Gomaa is regarded as a moderate cleric. He was appointed by Hosni Mubarak and is reportedly strongly opposed by some radical Muslims. An example of one of Gomaa's moderate positions is his opposition to female circumcision (see here). (Gomaa's contribution to female circumcision debate is analysed on pp. 75-76 of The Third Choice). Gomaa was a signatory to the Common Word letter from Muslim scholars to the Christians of the world.
Typical of Gomaa's approach to modern conditions is that he affirms the validity of traditional jurisprudence on the one hand, while allowing that changed conditions permit a different interpretation of Islamic law, subject to the application of reason. He believes that female circumcision was valid in the past, given the knowledge Muslims had then, but is invalid today, because of changed understandings. He places great importance on the contributions of reason and context to interpreting Islam.
Concerning wife-beating, Gomaa has argued that for a Muslim to beat his wife in Canada could be against Islam, because it is reasonable to take into account the culture of the surrounding society, whilst it would at the same time be a legitimate practice in a Muslim state, because of different understandings about domestic violence in the two contexts. Gomaa claims, for example, that in Muslim Arab societies women welcome and even desire beatings by their husbands, so the practice is not inconsistent with Islam (see here) but serves to safeguard the family.
My assessment of Gomaa is that he is an intellectual who straddles the traditional world of Islamic jurisprudence and the modern world of technological advance and changing social conditions.
In the rapidly changing political context in Egypt, a more radical Islamic government in Egypt would almost certainly appoint more conservative Mufti than Ali Gomaa, with potentially significant consequences for the daily lives of Egyptian citizens.
Fatwas are typically issued as an answer in response to a specific question or set of questions. In this case the questions were: what is the legitimate Islamic ruling concerning attacks on churches and Christian places or worship, attacking them by arson or bombs; what is the legal ruling if there are people praying inside the church at the time; and is the claim valid which denies that a dhimmah (pact of surrender or protection) exists between Copts and Muslims at the present time?
Why would Muslims be asking about the dhimmah pact in the very period when Copts are being persecuted and killed, and their places of worship burnt and bombed? For understand this, it is important to grasp the function of the dhimma pact. (The detailed functioning of the dhimma is described in detail in my book The Third Choice.)
Non-Muslims living under Islamic law are traditionally considered as dhimmis, or people of the dhimma pact of surrender. Islamic laws understands dhimmis, who include Christians, to be people who have surrendered to the forces of Islam under certain specific conditions.
These conditions include payment of the jizya tax, and acceptance of being made 'small' as Sura 9:29 of the Qur'an puts it. See for example, the explanation by Ibn Kathir of what being made 'small' laid down in a section of his commentary entitled Paying Jizyah is a sign of Kufr (infidelity) and Disgrace. Ibn Kathir states that non-Muslims living under Islamic rule are to be 'subdued', 'miserable', 'humiliated', 'disgraced', and 'belittled'.
Classical Islamic law included many debilitating restrictions on Christians living in an Islamic state, including, for example, prohibitions on building new churches or repairing old ones, restrictions on bearing arms, limitations on the height of houses, and legal disabilities in sharia courts.
Islamic jurists considered that dhimmis who paid the annual jizya tax were purchasing their life back for the year ahead. In effect, the non-Muslim who agreed to submit to these principles of Islamic law was allowed to live by virtue of paying his taxes. If the non-Muslim failed to observe the conditions of the dhimma, his head was forfeit, and his possessions (including wife, children, house and place of worship) could lawfully be confiscated by Muslims.
The eminent nineteenth Algerian Qur'anic commentator Muhammad ibn Yusuf at-Fayyish (d. 1914) explained the meaning of the jizya tax in his commentary of Sura 9:29.
It was said: it [jizya] is a satisfaction for their blood. It is said 'X' has sufficed … to compensate for their not being slain. Its purpose is to substitute for the duties (wajib) of killing and of slavery … It is for the benefit of Muslims.
Or as William Eton wrote in his compendious Survey of the Turkish Empire in 1799: 'the sum of money received [from non-Muslims] is taken as compensation for being permitted to wear their heads that year.'
The system of jizya payments was mainly dismantled in the 19th and 20th centuries across the Islamic world, under pressure from European powers.
Now here comes the point about the Mufti's fatwa.
Since it is the dhimma pact and observance of its conditions which is supposed, according to Islamic law, to guarantee the safety of non-Muslims living in the Islamic state, the contention has been arising among radically minded Muslims, influenced by the worldwide sharia revival, that today's Christians, living in Muslim lands, are not protected by a dhimma pact, because they do not pay the jizya, and are not submissive to classical sharia conditions for dhimmis.
The inescapable logic of this line of argument is that Christians living in Egypt – and elsewhere in the Middle East – have no right to life: the men can lawfully be killed by Muslims, and their possessions, including women and children – can be confiscated. That is, as long as they are not under a full dhimma pact.
This perspective, which seems outlandish and utterly pernicious to non-Muslims minds, is precisely the issue which Egypt's Mufti is intending to address with his fatwa. In the context of attacks on Christian churches and homes, and repeated killings of Copts, the Mufti is rejecting the reasoning which says that the dhimma no longer applies to protect the Christians of Egypt.
The very existence of this fatwa is an important admission of the existence of the way of thinking, because the Mufti is trying to root it out. All the recent attacks on Copts – a list of which is given in my previous blog post, might be claimed to be justified by radically minded Muslims, on the basis of the contention that Christians without a pact are fair game.
So, for example, we could assume that the off-duty policeman who shot and killed a 71 year old Christian man on a train in January believed he had a right to kill Christians because the jizya as 'satisfaction for their blood', as At-Fayyish described it, is not being paid by them. Also the Coptic demonstrators who have been attacked and killed have presumably been considered to be acting arrogantly, and not 'submissively' as the dhimma demands of non-Muslims, for one of the conditions of the dhimma is that non-Muslims must not criticize Islam or Muslims. Likewise monks who have been attacked for building security fences were regarded as pact breakers because they were making modifications to a place of worship, which is forbidden by dhimma laws.
There is a good deal of references being made to jizya payments and the dhimma among radical Muslims in the Middle East today. The argument is being put that Christians will not be safe until they pay the jizya and submit to dhimma conditions, because then and only then will a religious obligation exist for Muslims to respect the right to life of Christians. Gradually, year by year, calls to return jizya are emerging from the shadows into the light of day.
In the worldview of dhimmitude, non-Muslims have no inherent right to life. Muslims do have this right under sharia law, as it is a capital offence to kill a Muslim. However non-Muslims only have a conceded right to life, if they agree to redeem their life each year with jizya payments, and submit to the rules of the dhimma. (And even then, killing a dhimmi is not the capital offense that killing a Muslim is.) This is the worldview to which radicals like the Islamic Brotherhood wish Egypt to return.
Back to the Mufti of Egypt
How then can the Mufti address this pressing challenge, that some Muslims in Egypt think it acceptable to bomb and burn churches and Christian homes, and to kill Christians, because they no longer have a dhimma to protect them?
It seems to me that he could oppose this on two grounds. He could argue the universal brotherhood of all people, that all people have a right to life and liberty granted by their creator. He does not do this, perhaps because it is so far from mainsteam Islamic attitudes to non-Muslims. Normative Islam is based on lack of reciprocity and lack of equality between Muslims and non-Muslims.
What Sheikh Gomaa does instead is argue that being a citizen of a modern state gives an equivalent level of protection to the dhimma pact. The fatwa states:
... assaults on Christians living in Egypt are a breach to the citizenship contract, for [Christians] are citizens who have the rights to citizenship. They made a contract with Muslims, and have subjected themselves to a covenant to live together [with Muslims] in the land in peace and security. Assaulting them, or causing them harm, or terrorising them – in addition to killing them and destroying their churches – is a breach of this contract, and of the covenant that we [Muslims] have the duty to fulfil.
What Ali Gomaa is saying, quite explicitly, is that being an Egyptian citizen gives Christians the same protection which the dhimma gave. The fatwa states:
The state Mufi pointed out that the saying of some people that
“the covenant between us and them is the dhimmah pact, which lapsed in this [modern] era, therefore we are not bound (to them) by a covenant"
is a false saying, and lacks much understanding. Citizenship, in its agreed understanding, has been established within the Islamic world’s constitutions and laws, including the Egyptian constitution, which ... in its second article on the authority of the Islamic sharia ... acknowledges [the rights for] citizenship – as Muhammad did in the Medina Constitution. This has provided for the coexistence and cooperation between the children of the one homeland [i.e. Muslims and Christians] even if they differ in religion, and if there is no dhimma contract or jizya. Therefore, the [citizenship] contract is one of the legal contracts must must be fulfilled, exactly like the dhimma contract.
[The Mufti] has made it clear that claiming the dhimma era has lapsed, and denying them [Christians] a covenant with Muslims is false talk.
The Mufti also cites some hadiths (traditions) which point to the special status of the Copts in Islam's destiny, and emphasizes that those who do violence against Copts only empower the enemies of Islam:
... acts of destruction distort the image of Islam in the West and the East, and they support the false image that Islam is bloodthirsty. This gives license to lurking enemies to interfere in our internal affairs...
Ali Goma also cites various Islamic canonical sources which address the issue of mistreating dhimmis, and argues that attacking them or their buildings is a terrible offense against Allah's laws, which will lead to a very bad outcome on judgement day. He considers attacks on churches accompanied by killing to be 'worse than murder, theft or adultery', which are already very serious crimes in Islam.
In comparison to the religious leaders who are baying for Christian blood in Egypt today, Ali Gomaa is acting like a decent man. He is trying to do what he can to avert a catastrophe. Nevertheless, his whole worldview presupposes the need for a 'covenant' to apply between Muslims and Christians if Christian blood is to be protected. He does not stand up for an inalienable right to life for all, irrespective of creed.
Gomaa is seeking, within the limited parameters of Islamic understandings of the rights of non-Muslims to propose a compelling argument to pious Muslims that they should not attack and kill Christians. Yet in order to do this he gives away the fundamental human rights of non-Muslims.
There is another problem with Gomaa's fatwa. In the dhimma pact system, there are multiple possibilities of pact violations. If a dhimmi steps out of line, their protection lapses. Gomaa appears to avoid this issue altogether. This is problematic, because some of those who have attacked Christians verbally have used arguments to show that Copts' actions have abrogated the protection which would have applied under dhimmi conditions. By this way of thinking, there could be no protection, even if the dhimma did apply. People whose thinking goes in this direction will not be convinced by Ali Gomaa's arguments, because he ommitted to address the issue of pact violations in his citizen pact model.
Hopefully I will be able, in another post, to explain how verbal attacks on Copts have invoked the concept of the dhimma pact. They have done this by making allegations which are obviously intended to be regarded as violations of dhimma conditions. Radical Muslims in Egypt have been accusing Christians of being pact breakers, and by this means putting pressure upon them to accept again the age-old form of servitude known as the dhimma. Up until now the Copts have been resisting this pressure, and continue to protest.
What the outside world needs to do is grasp these dynamics, so that it can make an fair and accurate assessment of what is going on in Egypt. It is necessary to grasp why the concept of the dhimma is central to understanding what is happening with the Copts of Egypt at this time. They are between a rock (violence) and a hard place (the return of the dhimma and fearful subservience to Islam).
A Tsunami of Persecution Against the Copts of Egypt
Posted: 24 Mar 2011 05:05 AM PDT
Back on October 17, 2010, I commenced a blog post on Egypt. I meant to title it Storm Clouds Gather over the Christians of Egypt. My first sentence was to be "We seem to be on the verge of witnessing a tragic, and even catastrophic assault by radical Muslims on the Christians of Egypt."
The reason for starting my post was a shocking interview on Al Jazeera of Egyptian Cleric Muhammad Salim Al-Awwa by host Ahmed Mansour, on the program 'Without Borders'. This had been broadcast on September 15, 2010.
At the time I was simply too distressed to continue with the post, and it was never finished. I regret this lack of courage, and the purpose of this post is to note the events which have happened since them.
After Al-Awwa's broadcast tepeated mass demonstrations of Egyptian Muslims were staged. These threatened reprisals against the Copts and Pope Shenouda. There was also a string of articles in newspapers inciting hatred against Christians.
The following incidents have come to my attention since then:
On 24 November 2010 around 5,000 soldiers attacked St. Mary and St. Michaels in Talbiya, Giza over an alleged building code violation. They used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. Three Copts were killed, and a young child died from tear gas thrown into a chapel. Hundreds were injured, and more than 150 Copts were arrested.
A devastating New Year's Eve suicide bomb attack on the Saints Church in Alexandria killed 23 worshippers and injured 70, the worst mass attack on Copts for a decade.
A drive-by shooting of worshippers on the Coptic Christmas (6 January 2011) killed six Christians and a Muslim policeman.
On January 11, an off-duty policeman used his service revolver to shoot Copts on a train. A 71 year-old man was killed, and five others were injured.
On February 19, 2011, the home of the Christian building contractor who was building the controversal St Mary and St Michael church in Talbiya was broken into, and his 18-year old daughter was abducted. The abductors wrote on the wall the Muslim Brotherhood slogan 'Islam is the solution' and "The Church has to be demolished'.
On 21 February 2011 the body of Rev Dawood Boutros was found, murdered two days earlier in Shotb, just outside Assiut City, southern Egypt. Journalist Ahmed Zaki Osman reported for Al-Masry al-Youm: 'According to the slain priest's neighbours, four people killed the Coptic cleric in his home while "chanting Islamic slogans". (Report by Elizabeth Kendal).
In multiple incidents from February 20-26, 2011 (see here, here, and here) Egyptian armed forces demolished fences which monks had erect to protect the monastery during a chaotic period when hundreds of criminals had escaped from prisons in Egypt. In one incident, when the monks tried to address the soldiers, they opened fire with live amunition, wounding six Copts. The soldiers were crying "Allahu Akhbar" as they demolished the fence, and prevented the monastery's car from taking the wounded to hospital. The Monastery of St Makarios of Alexandria was also attacked, where one monk was shot, and ten were wounded through being beaten by batons.
On February 28, 2011, the Governor of Minya ordered the demolition of ten homes belonging to Coptic families in the village of Saeed Abdelmassih, 30 km from Minya. The families had refused to pay a bribe to prevent the demolision, and to donate land for a mosque in the village, where no Muslims lived.
On March 5, 2011 a mob of over 4,000 Muslims attacked Coptic homes and burnt down an ancient Coptic church in Soul, near Cairo. The attackers played 'soccer' with the relics of the saints and martyrs taken from inside the church, and converted the site into a mosque, naming it the "Mercy Mosque". Later reports stated that the church is being rebuilt by the army.
On March 8, 2011, a mob of some 15,000 armed Muslims attacked a vastly outnumbered crowd of Christians on the outskirts of Cairo. The Egyptian army, which was called to restore order, joined in the attack, shooting the Copts with live ammunition. Nine Christians were reported to have been killed and over a hundred injured.
On March 14, 2011, over a dozen Copts were shot and beaten by Egyptian soldiers, some of whom were crying Allahu Akbar during the attack. The Copts had previously been part of a protest against the Sool attack on March 5.
Just a few hours ago, I received a report that some Muslims claimed to have executed the rules of sharia law when they amputated the ear of a Coptic man for leasing an apartment to two single women. The perpetrators also burned the apartment - what they called "the crime scene" and his car. After they finished they called the police and said "we have executed the law of Allah, come and apply your law".