Tag Archives: Quran

Islam and Freedom of Belief

Let there be no compulsion in religion

Let there be no compulsion in religion

We hear a lot of intolerance and Islam. When there’s a complaint in Europe or north America about Islamaphobia or suggested restrictions on the wearing of the full-face veil, you can be guaranteed that someone will remind us that when it comes to intolerance, Islamic states can be hard to beat. “Try walking through Mecca in a mini-skirt,” they’ll say. “Or proselytizing for Christianity. You’ll soon know what real intolerance is like.

But that’s not the full picture – as you’ll know if you follow the Unity blog of Usama Hasan. (A good guy you may remember from a previous bust-up.)

He’s written an interesting paper called No Compulsion in Religion: Islam and the Freedom of Belief. I reproduce some of it here. I’ve cut a lot for brevity and scrapped the footnotes. So I recommend you read the original. But in the meantime, please read this. It enlightened me.

Following the international furore in 2012 over the amateurish, inflammatory and offensive film, Innocence of Muslims, there were calls around the world to introduce or strengthen rules that would become akin to global blasphemy laws.  Dozens of people were killed during violent protests in Muslim-majority countries, including US Ambassador Stevens in Libya by a terrorist attack under cover of anti-film protests, and a Pakistani minister placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of the film-director.

For many of us, this felt like a case of “Here we go again.”  From books and films to cartoons, teddy bears and desecration of copies of the Qur’an by a handful of American fundamentalists and soldiers, the story is the same: instead of ignoring material insulting and offensive to Islam, or forgiving their authors as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would have done, some immature Muslims resort to violence that ends up killing people who had done more than most to actually help Muslims or Muslim-majority countries.  Furthermore, the poor-quality “offending” material receives far more publicity than it deserved, and the image of Islam is dragged through the mud yet again, to the exasperation of the vast majority of ordinary, decent Muslims.

In the 1980’s, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, an expletive-laden, largely-unreadable book was catapulted, along with its author, into international fame by an Islamist campaign of “raising awareness” by publicising its satirical insults towards holy figures of Islam, culminating in Ayatollah Khomeini’s notorious fatwa ordering Rushdie’s murder.  The same story was repeated, two decades later, with the Danish cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): these were largely unknown when first published, until a Denmark-based Egyptian cleric began a campaign publicising them.  Surely, to love the Prophet and his disciples means not to publicise gross insults directed at him.  If people insult our loved ones, such as parents, children or siblings, would we broadcast those offensive comments or depictions to the whole world?

In all these cases, dozens of ordinary people died in riots and protests around the world: this is extremely ironic, when the Prophet himself is said to have taught that the destruction of the Ka’bah, the holiest site of Islam, is lighter in the sight of God than the taking of a single life Continue reading

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Language wars

In any conflict or dispute, setting the terms, choosing the terrain, defining the terms can be decisive.

In the ongoing political battle over taxation in the UK for instance, fixing in voters minds the concept of a “death tax”, rather than a redistributive inheritance tax, skews the argument one way right from the beginning.

Here’s another example that caught my eye. It’s from David Kilcullen’s book  about counter insurgency, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One. (See previous post.) He’s trying to label his enemy in such a way as to delegitimise them in the eyes of Muslims – to make the Islamic sea an inhospitable place for so-called terroristic fish. Here’s a passage from the preface:

“I use the term takfiri to describe the enemy’s ideology, and the phrase “takfiri terrorist” to describe those who use terrorism to further that ideology. The doctrine of takfir disobeys the Qur’anic injunction against compulsion in religion (Surah al-Baqarah: 256) and instead holds that Muslims whose beliefs differ from the takfiri’s are infidels who must be killed.

“Takfirism is a heresy within Islam: it was outlawed in the 2005 Amman Message, an initiative of King Abdullah II of Jordan, which brought together more than 500 ulema (Islamic scholars) and Muslim political leaders from the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League in an unprecedented consensus agreement, a ‘unanimous agreement by all Muslims everywhere as represented by their acknowledged most senior religious authorities and political leaders.’ Al Qa’ida is takfiri, and its members are universally so described by other Muslims, whom they routinely terrorize.

“In my view [David Kilcullen’s view, that is], and compellingly for me in the daily vocabulary of most ordinary local people, religious leaders and tribal leaders with whom I have worked in the field, ‘takfirism’ best describes the ideology currently threatening the Islamic world.

“I prefer it to the terms jihad, jihadist, jihadi, or mujahidin (literally  ‘holy war’ or ‘holy warrior’), which cede to the enemy the sacred status they crave, and to irhabi (terrorist) or hiraba (terrorism), which address AQ’s violence but not its ideology.

Takfiri is also preferable to the terms salafi or salafist, which refer to the belief the true Muslims should live like the first four generations of Muslims, the ‘pious ancestors’ (as-salaf as-salih). Most extremists are salafi, but few salafi believers are takfiri, and even fewer are terrorists: most, although fundamentalist conservatives, have no direct association with terrorism.”

So – is this a credible attempt to come up with a better term than “jihadist”? Is it more accurate than “terrorist”? Or is it nothing more than a self-interested transparent attempt by one side to undermine the other by resetting the definitions?

Can it catch on? It is sometimes difficult to budge accepted terms from the popular and journalistic lexicons – hence the persistence of the term “joyriders”, despite efforts to rebrand them as “death drivers” or something similar.

Any thoughts from Muslims out there on the appropriateness or otherwise of takfiri in this context? Is it right? Does it work for you?

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