The CNN Discussion

The cable news channel, CNN, recently aired a program to explore whether, vis-à-vis other faiths, Muslim is a more violent religion.

The live discussion was chaired by Donald Davis “Don” Lemon, an award-winning journalist and news anchor at the TV station. The discussion panel comprised Dr. Tawfik Hamid (an author from Egypt who opposes Islamic fundamentalism but who once was an extremist himself), Tom Fuentes (CNN’s law enforcement analyst and a former FBI assistant director), and Arsalan Iftikhar (a human rights lawyer, an editor of the Islamic Monthly magazine and the adjunct professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago).

This program took place after the jihadist movement ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has shot to prominence in recent months, upon conducting lightning attacks and taking large pieces of land in Syria and Iraq. This victory was followed by brutal suppression and summary killings of large numbers of non-Muslims in the territories conquered. They also beheaded western journalists and loaded their executions on YouTube.

Two Out Of Three Said Yes

Both Dr. Tawfik Hamid and Tom Fuentes believed that that Islam is inherently more prone to violence, in a way other major religions such as Christianity and Judaism are not. According to Dr. Tawfik Hamid, this is because Islam has not been “reinterpreted” or “reformed like other religions”. Dr. Tawfik Hamid did not elaborate what he meant by reinterpretation and reform, but presumably these efforts entail updating Islamic doctrine, principles, teachings and practices to keep abreast of increasingly civilized human behaviors, customs and norms over time.

Agreeing, Tom Fuentes offered that by clinging to the religion in its original, unchanged form, ISIS could justify its savage deeds by claiming that they are merely Islamic acts, and thus religious by extension of this logic.

Begging To Differ

But Arsalan  Iftikhar disagreed with his co-panelists. He pointed out that Christians are just as violent too, citing the Lord’s Resistant Army (the terrorist group in Africa), and pro-life Christian radicals who had attacked gay nightclubs and abortion clinics in U.S.

Don Lemon, the news anchor, disputed Arsalan Iftikhar’s assertion. He reminded the panel that their discussion was not about whether Islam or other major faiths practices violence, but rather which one of them was the guiltiest of this. From such a yardstick, the answer was rather clear, since the number of innocent lives that have been lost through violence perpetrated by Muslim extremists far outstripped that killed by radicals from other religions.

Think About It

Do you reckon or agree that Islam is more violent than other regions? If so, why is this so, and what can be done to de-radicalize Muslim extremists and jihadists? Is positive and peaceful engagement, such as dialogue and discussion to seek common grounds with these Muslims the way to go? Or is warfare, which a U.S.-led coalition of nations is now heading towards, the only viable solution to this problem? It is quite predictable that many lives – including those of innocent civilians who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time – will be lost when both sides fight it out. But when the dust has settled, presumably with the U.S. and its allies emerging victorious, will there be lasting peace thereafter?

Ban Galore

The Islamic State (IS) has forbidden teaching music, philosophy, history and physical education in schools in Raqqa, Syria. IS has shut down several schools even though their curriculum had already been approved by the regime of Bashar Assad.

The IS has a huge influence over the Raqqa province since it emerged during Syria’s civil war in the spring of 2013. They have recently established an “Islamic curriculum” for schools in Raqqa to adhere to. Teachers and principals had to attend a mandatory course in Sharia law and subjects that do not fit in with the “law of gods” such as chemistry and philosophy have been removed from schools.  In addition, IS also banned certain history, geography, science, and religious books.

Destruction Of Historical Monuments

IS is also destroying historical monuments, statutes, manuscripts and religious structures in Iraq and Syria. They have already destroyed the statue of Arab poet Abu Tamman and the tomb of Islamic historian ibn al-Atheer, among others. Islamic history professor Hamed al-Zaini says that Arabs have a long history in science, literature and art that dates back to before Islam and they became more open to the world after Islam. He said that destroying the historical relics that document these historical moments is a crime against humanity.

Think About It

What is IS trying to accomplish by banning these subjects in schools and certain books? And how do they think they will benefit from such bans? Will forcing Islam on schools and teachers really change the way citizens think and their religious values? Can you really force religion on someone? And is IS acting on behalf of Islam or on their own accord in their actions?

120,000 Tweets

Those who don’t like the religious police in Saudi Arabia have a field day when a Twitter hashtag “share a religious photo from your mobile phone” appeared recently.  More than 120,000 tweets came in, mostly targeting the religious police, accompanied by photos of malpractices committed by the religious police.

Religious Police Mocked

What exactly is a “religious photo”?  It seems that everyone has his own idea.  And so, not surprisingly, those who tweeted on hashtag “share a religious photo from your mobile phone” came up with some innovative answers as to what constitutes a “religious photo”.  And most of these mock the malpractices of the religious police, otherwise known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

One user tweeted a photo of a car belonging to the religious police complete with the official logo of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.  The only problem is that this official vehicle was parked in a handicap car park lot.  Now how’s that for malpractice?  Any other car parked in any handicap lot will surely attract a summon.  Are the religious police officers exempted from the prohibition to park at handicap lots? This particular twit was re-tweeted more than 170 times.

Another user posted a twit on the same hashtag, showing a caricature of a man dressed in uniform similar to that worn by members of the religious police. The only problem is that this man was reading a book upside down.  And the title of the book?  It’s entitled “Islamic Tolerance”.

Think About It

Should netizens have a voluntary code of conduct in cyberspace?  Should social media platforms be used to attack others?  Related to this, should cyber bullying be allowed?

“Allegiance To A Foreign Power”

ISIS is not doing Islam any good, especially with the recent beheadings of westerners held captive by them.  The extreme form of Sharia practised by ISIS is giving shivers to both moderate Muslims and non-Muslims, so much so that the US is now building a so-called coalition of the willing to confront ISIS’s jihadists.  Australia has signed up to this coalition.  Now an Australian senator has openly called on those advocating for Sharia to be accepted in Australia to either leave the country or else they should be deprived of their voting and welfare rights.  And the reason for this?  Because such advocates are showing “allegiance to a foreign power”.

“Get Out Of Here”

Leading the clarion call to those rooting for Sharia to get out of Australia is Jacqui Lambie, a senator from the Tasmanian Palmer United Party.  Likening those who want Sharia in Australia to giving “allegiance to a foreign power”, Senator Jacqui Lambie said these advocates should “pack up their bags and get out of here”.

As Senator Jacqui Lambie puts it: “Anybody that’s supporting or calling for Sharia law in Australia should get out. It’s as simple as that”.

No Voting And Welfare Rights

But what if the proponents of Sharia for Australia refuse to pack their bags and get out of Australia?  Senator Jacqui Lambie has that covered, saying: “I just say anyone who supports Sharia law in Australia should not have the right to vote, should not be given government handouts and should probably pack up their bags and get out of here – that’s what I’m saying”.

The Government’s Stand On Sharia

There have been recent calls from religious leaders for Australia to embrace legal pluralism, which if adopted, will allow Muslims to conduct financial transactions and family matters relating to marriage and divorce under Sharia principles.

The Australian government’s stand on Sharia is stated by Attorney-General George Brandis who said: “There is only one test and that is: is it compliant with Australian law? So long as Australian citizens, of whatever faith, comply with Australian law, that is the only thing that matters”.  In other words, aspects of Sharia that conforms to Australia law will be allowed, but not those that contradict it. Or put it another way, Sharia per se cannot be accepted in Australia because there are aspects of it that do not conform to Australia law.

George Brandis puts it this way: “The Coalition does not believe that Sharia law should be accepted or recognised in Australia. It is logically possible for somebody to do something that is both consistent with Australian law and consistent with Sharia principles. The question is: are they obedient to Australian law”.

Think About It

What the Australian government through its Attorney-General is saying is that there can only be one valid set of laws in Australia, and that is what is commonly called Australian law.  Sharia has no place in Australia because some provisions of Sharia conflict with Australian law.  As for the provisions that are not in conflict, these are already incorporated in Australian law.  But what about those advocating for Sharia to be accepted in Australia?  Should they be asked to leave Australia? What if they are Australia citizens? And as citizens, should they be disenfranchised of their voting and welfare rights?  Would doing so be discriminating against fellow Australian citizens?  So what is the solution?

Numbers Of Foreign Female Jihadists In  Islamic State

The cold-blooded killing of US journalist James Foley in Iraq by Islamic State militants shocked the world. What made the event even more chilling was the unmasking of his killer as possibly a British national who had gone to the Middle East to fight on behalf of Islamic State and other militant groups. Some 500 British nationals are thought to have done so. And up to 1 in 7 of these are thought to be female. British women are not the only foreign female recruits. The US-based Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium estimates that women make up 10-15% of the 2,000 or more foreign jihadists in Iraq and Syria. Generally some go over with or to join their husbands, while the others go to find husbands.

Roles Of British Women Jihadists In Islamic State

The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London has a database of 25 British women that it is monitoring, Most of the women are aged 18-24. Inquiries about becoming jihadists have increased after James Foley’s beheading and the video released of the execution. The female jihadists tend to have traditional domestic duties, but those who have been there a long time are moving towards a recruiting role. Others have signed up with the Islamic State’s all-women police force.

The all-women police force, al-Khanssaa brigade, operates in Raqqa, the Syrian city where the Islamic State has its headquarters. According to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, al-Khanssaa was set up in February this year. The members are single women, who are dressed in black robes and veiled, and receive a monthly salary of 25,000 Syrian pounds ($160). Their duties are to enforce the sharia law dress code and to search burqa-clad women to ensure they are not enemy figures in disguise. ICRS thinks that the women in this brigade come from Britain and France, but the social media accounts are written in English and run by the British, perhaps they are considered by Islamic State commanders to be the most committed of the foreign female jihadists.

However, it has also been reported that along with their commitment goes what has been described as “barbaric interpretations of the Islamic faith to justify their actions”. They believe they are justified in punishing women for “un-Islamic behaviour” by using them as sex slaves for the Islamic fighters. It has been reported that as many as 3,000 women and girls from the Yazidi tribe in Iraq have been forced into brothels set up by al-Khanssaa. It has also been reported that 3 Malaysian women have become “comfort women” to the Islamic State fighters.

Why Foreign Women Become Jihadists In Islamic State

Experts in terrorism have not been able to pinpoint what drives women from western countries to become jihadists in Islamic State. Naureen Chowdhury Fink from the Global Center on Cooperative Security in New York said, “It looks like it is exciting to be part of something bigger than yourself. There are also real grievances about the war in Syria and Iraq, or maybe it is an opportunity to get out of negative dynamics at home”.  She also pointed out that, from the way the women banter with each other on social media, the “rhetoric of sisterhood” paints an inviting picture of the lives of these women.

Profiles Of Some Of The Women

The profiles that have been made public of some of the women do show that they do not share a common background, and that what they post on social media is not merely harmless sisterly banter, but can be quite blood-thirsty threats.

Sally Jones, a Muslim convert who now calls herself Sakinah Hussain or Umm Hussain al-Britani, was once an aspiring rock musician. She has spent a lifetime on state benefits, and has abandoned her two young sons to marry Junaid Hussain, a British computer hacker turned jihadist. One of her posts said, “You Christians all need beheading with a nice blunt knife and stuck on the railings at Raqqa….come here I’ll do it for you!”.

Coming from quite a different background is 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood from Glasgow, who had received a private education and was studying one of the medical sciences. She is said to have married an Islamic State fighter and encouraged terrorists acts via a Twitter account under the name of Umm Layth. The account has since been deleted. She is thought to be a key figure in al-Khanssaa.

Another woman, Khadijah Dare from  Lewisham in south London, moved to Syria in 2012 with her Swedish husband Abu Bakr, an Islamic State fighter. She celebrated James Foley’s death on Twitter. She also announced that she wanted to be the first woman to behead a western prisoner in Syria.

Think About It

What is it that draws young women to become jihadists in the Islamic State? Is there a move by the Islamic State to actively recruit women from abroad? The women’s interpretation of the Quran is said to be barbaric, but is there some basis for their interpretation?

Leaving House Without A Chaperone

A recent killing of a 14-year old Arab girl by her brother and cousins over her leaving the house without a chaperone is yet another case of honor crime committed against women.  This honor killing is all the more repulsive considering that she was killed by relatives.

About The Case

On June 12, 14-year old Fatma Hayb decided to leave her house.  But it was already late at night, around 10:20 p.m.in the village of Tuba Zangaria in Upper Galilee.

24-year old Mustafa Hayb, brother of Fatma Hayb, objected, saying that Fatma Hayb was leaving the house without permission, and moreover, she is leaving without a chaperon.

When Fatma Hayb insisted on going out, Mustafa Hayb enlisted the help of his 3 cousins – 20-year old Majed Hayb, 20-year old Issa Hayb, and 19-year old Bashar Hayb.

The Honor Killing

On that fateful night, Bashar Hayb and Issa Hayb came to Fatma Hayib’s house. They had a 9mm pistol with them.  Prior to their arrival, Mustafa Hayb and Majed Haby lured Fatma Hayb into sitting outside in the courtyard.

Shortly after they arrived, Bashar Hayb and Issa Hayb shot Fatma Hayb at least 8 times, with the bullets hitting in both the upper and lower body.  After that Bashar Hayb and Issa Hayb beat a quick retreat, leaving the severely wounded Fatma Hayb still here?  Fatma Hayb was rushed to hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The Indictment

All 4 men were indicted on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit a crime and weapons offenses.

Mustafa Hayb and Majed Hayb faced an additional charge of menacing the prosecution.

Mustafa Hayb faced another charge of trying to harm his other 20-year old sister.  On this the indictment said Mustafa was enraged when that sister stayed out one night until 9:30 p.m.  When she returned, Mustafa Hayb grabbed her by the hair but she managed to escape.  However, the enraged Mustafa Hayb went after her, armed with a knife.

All 4 accused have been remanded until the end of the trial.

The Plea

Public Defender Said Haddad is defending Mustafa Hayb.  Said Haddad denied that Mustafa Hayb “had any connection to the murder or desired his sister’s death”.

On his part, Mustafa Hayb admitted that there was a plan to injure his sister to warn her to mend her behaviour.  He denied there was a plan at honor killing.

Think About It

So what honor is there when a brother kills a sister, or cousins killing a fellow cousin? Is the life of a Muslim woman so cheap and expendable that she can be killed at any time for honor reasons? Then again, isn’t honor killing simply murder?

An Extremely Severe Punishment

In Iran, women are not allowed to attend male sporting events. The consequence for those who break the law can be extremely severe, as one woman has found out.  Ghonchen Ghavami, a 25-year-old woman who is both a British and an Iranian national, has already been in jail for 2 months, of which 6 weeks were spent in solitary confinement.

Ghonchen Ghavami’s Arrests

Ghonchen Ghavami, who had studied law in London, was among a group of women trying to watch a volleyball match between Iran and Italy being played at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on June 20. They were there to protest against the ban on women at male sporting events. Ironically, Azadi means freedom.

Ghonchen Ghavami was arrested with more than a dozen other women as they tried to enter the stadium. She was released from custody, but when she went back to collect her belongings a few days later, she was arrested a second time, and transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, known for holding political prisoners and journalists.

Amnesty International UK has heard that she is being investigated for “propaganda against the state”. Meanwhile her lawyer has had no access to her or any documents about why she’s being held.

The Ban On Women Watching Male Sporting Events

The law was introduced after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, on grounds that it is unIslamic for women to be in mixed crowds where men might be considered to be not fully clothed, and is meant to protect women from “lewd behaviour”.  The ban extends to female journalists. Foreign women travelling to watch volleyball matches have been allowed into the venues, but only when displaying their passports.

Commenting on Ghonchen Ghavami’s arrest, Iran’s head of police, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, said, “In the current conditions, the mixing of men and women in stadiums is not in the public interest.” He added, “The stance taken by religious scholars and the supreme leader remains unchanged, and as the enforcer of law, we cannot allow women to enter stadiums”.

Support for Ghonchen Ghavami

There is a social media campaign to pressurise Iran into freeing Ghonchen Ghavami, and protests are being held at other volleyball matches.

The UK Foreign Office is aware of the situation, but can do little because the UK has no diplomatic ties with Iran.

Think About It

Is the penalty meted to Ghonchen Ghavami too excessive for trying to watch a volleyball match? Or is she being held in prison because she was there to protest against the law? Even so, is the penalty too severe? Is the ban reasonable in this day and age, even in a Muslim country?

“It Hides And Hinders Identity”

Now from Tunisia comes news that a female candidate has entered the upcoming legislative elections.  Well there is nothing wrong with Muslim women standing for elections, is there?  After all, Pakistan and Indonesia, both Muslim majority countries, had women as President.  But what is unusual about this Tunisian candidate is that she wears the niqab, which covers her body from head to toe. As one Twitter user puts it: “Legally, niqab is allowed, but it hides and hinders identity”.

The Niqab Candidate

One day after its formation, a new political party called the National Independent Party nominated a woman to run in the upcoming legislative elections.  Bihasan al Naqash, head of the National Independent Party called this an unprecedented move – nominating a niqab wearing candidate.

But if Bihasan al Naqash had hoped for strong feminine support by nominating a female candidate, he must have been taken aback by the reactions in cyberspace where a fierce debate is taking place.

Reactions

Among those who disapprove of this niqab wearing candidate are women who support secularism. They said that the niqab could hinder her ability to communicate.  Furthermore, the niqab also makes it difficult for voters to identify her in public, and for her to prove her identity.

Bakhta Bilqadhi, head of the non-profit organization Association Tunisienne des Femmes Democrates called this nomination of a niqab wearing candidate as merely “political calculations and marketing”.

Bakhta Bilqadhi added: “It [National Independent Party] does not have any real plan for women’s participation and in all fields”.

Raja bin Salah, a writer and political activist said on his Facebook page: “It is not possible, according to my opinion, to accept the comedy of accepting niqab-wearing women in elections. How do we make sure that it is the same woman? What if her face was not luring enough? Or even her voice? Or will her husband stand beside her to give a speech on her bahlf, like I have seen in some countries?”

But there are also some who defend the niqab clad candidate.  Mohammed al-Qomani, Secretary-General of the Islamic Reform Party and Development said that what the person wears should not be taken as an excuse to discriminate between citizens.  However he agreed that it is legally permissible for a niqab wearing candidate to run for elections, the face covering however could be a nuisance.

Think About It

So is the filing of a niqab wearing candidate a publicity stunt?  A marketing ploy for the new political party?  Or is it a serious attempt to promote women participation in politics?  If the latter, how can she be identified in public if she hides behind the face veil? What if there are other niqab wearing candidates?  How can voters tell them apart?

Of Freebies And Junkets For Doctors

Doctors are pampered by pharmaceutical companies with freebies and junket trips, the intention of which is to sell pharmaceutical products to their clinics.  But is this practise of giving free gifts and free incentive holiday trips permissible in Islam?  That’s the question posed by a Muslim representative of a pharmaceutical company.  And now the Grand Mufti, Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department of Dubai has come up with a ruling in the form of a fatwa approving such gifts and junkets.

The Fatwa

The unnamed pharmacist representing a pharmaceutical company asked if it is permissible for him to give gifts and incentives to doctors, especially those doctors who go out to qualify for such free gifts and incentives.

In reply to this question, Dr Ali Ahmed Mashael, Grand Mufti, Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department said that incentives offered by pharmaceutical companies to doctors are permissible and legal.  Such incentives often take the form of all-expenses paid trips to attend conferences, including the giving of spending money for the trip.

Forbidden Acts

But Dr Ali Ahmed Mashael added some caveats.  He then quoted an example, saying if a doctor, trying to qualify for the incentive or financial gifts, engage in activities that are haram in Sharia, then it is haram to do so.

For example, it is haram for a doctor to prescribe medicines when such medication is not needed by the patient and the motive is to qualify for the incentive.  However in such a case, the company which provided the incentive is not guilty.

Think About It

So what the grand mufti is saying is that it is OK to accept the gifts and incentives from pharmaceutical companies, but don’t let these influence the doctors in being obliged to buy products from these pharmaceutical companies.  But once gifts and incentives are accepted, can the doctors concerned not feel obliged to buy something from these companies?

“Immoral And Unlawful”

Last week, Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makaren-Shirazi, an Iranian cleric said that high-speed mobile Internet and 3G services are “immoral and unlawful” and that they are against sharia law and violates “human and moral norms”.

He has warned Iran’s information ministry against providing such Internet services saying that “Western technology is like muddy and unsanitary water”, urging the ministry to purify the Internet of its “negative features” for users. However, Nasser Makaren-Shirazi is not against technology and the Internet altogether. He has his own website, which acts as a platform for visitors to ask for religious rulings.

The issue has been an on-going one since the government awarded 3G licenses to mobile broadband companies. Concerns were expressed that the technology would “jeopardize public chastity” and allow men and women to interact freely.

Supreme Council Of Cyberspace

Iran has set up the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, which was set up in 2012 to censor Internet usage for Iranians. The council is concerned with political opposition groups and websites that promote Western culture and what they call “Satan worship”. They also prohibit the sharing of naughty photos and social media usage by protestors. Many social network sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been banned.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani campaigned on the promise of better Internet access. He said that the younger generation cannot be shut off from the world and that access to the outside world via the Internet is inevitable. He also urged clerics to be more tolerant of the Internet in a meeting with the clerics last week, saying that it is important and allows for students and experts to access knowledge and science.

While the fatwa isn’t binding, it shows the opposition the government is up against. This is particularly so because many conservatives occupy key positions within the government and they hold a majority in parliament.

Think about it

Why are the clerics so afraid of the Internet and the influence it will have over its citizens? Perhaps they are afraid that once the public has more access to Western culture they might depart from their traditional ways? However, is that worth the price to pay for a more informed and knowledgeable society? And are the efforts of the government to ban certain sites futile anyway? Many young people are still able to use proxy servers or other means to bypass controls.