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Beards and Scarves Aren't Muslim By: Amir Taheri
The Times Online | Thursday, July 28, 2005


Last Sunday, hours after the terrorist attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh, a few dozen men and women gathered in front of the local town hall to vent their anger against those who had transformed the resort into a scene of death and desolation.

With cries of "No to murderers", they invited others to join. At first many hesitated — after all, Egypt has sweated under a state of emergency for 25 years. And the ordinary citizen has little incentive to provoke either the Government or the terrorists. Nevertheless, in almost all parts of Egypt people followed the example of Sharm el-Sheikh with symbolic funerals for the 90 or so victims of the tragedy.

Remarkably, in almost all demonstrations the participants also remembered and prayed for the victims of the suicide attacks in London. For the first time crowds of Muslims were condemning terrorism without making a distinction between the victims on the basis of their faith. So, is this the beginning of the long-awaited Muslim awakening to a dark force that threatens civilised world everywhere in the name of Islam?

Sadly, the answer cannot be better than: perhaps, perhaps not. The 7/7 attacks in London inspired some sympathetic comment throughout the Muslim countries. But even then many commentators could not resist taking a swipe at Britain for having "hosted Islamist terrorists" for years. A number of self-styled clerics, including 58 Pakistanis, have issued fatwas (opinions) that, on the surface, look like a rejection of terrorism. A closer look, however, shows that they still have a long way to go before they could be taken seriously.

Some self-styled clerics, including many in the British Muslim community, have used semantic trickery to hedge their bets. They condemn the attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh but when it comes to the attacks in London, all they are prepared to say is that they "do not condone" them. More disturbingly, their statements include the usual litany of Muslim woes about Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the assertion that "our youths" are right to be angry. The more they speak the more unspeakable they become.

In some cases sophistry is at play. For example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian televangelist based in Qatar, has issued a fatwa pronouncing as "illicit" the murder of people who have "temporary or permanent accords" with an individual Muslim or an Islamic state; such as foreigners invited to work in a Muslim country. As for Muhammad Khatami, Iran's outgoing President, it is "illicit" to murder "innocents". The trouble, however, is that he does not define who is innocent and who is not.

Such people use ambiguities because a blanket condemnation of terrorism would extend to attacks on Israelis and Americans, whom they do not regard as "innocent civilians".

But Muslims everywhere need to get to grips with a phenomenon that threatens all Muslim countries and Islamic communities in the West. This requires Muslim opinion-makers to take a number of steps.

The first is to discard the notion that anyone who is not a Muslim is an "infidel" and thus not a proper human being. Next, it is important to reject the belief that, since the goal of converting mankind to Islam is a noble one, any means to do so are justified. Muslims should accept diversity and compete in the global market place of faiths through normal channels, rather than ghazvas (raids) against "infidel" centres.

Since there is no power of excommunication in Islam the terrorists cannot be formally banned from the community. But the community can distance itself from them in accordance with the Islamic principle of al-bara'a (self-exoneration). This means that a Muslim must publicly dissociate himself from acts committed by other Muslims that he regards as sinful.

One way of doing this would be to organise a day of bara'a in all British mosques — and hopefully in mosques throughout the world — to declare that terrorism has no place in Islam.

Muslims could also help by stopping the use of their bodies as advertising space for al-Qaeda. Muslim women should cast aside the so-called hijab, which has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with tribal wear on the Arabian peninsula. The hijab was reinvented in the 1970s as a symbol of militancy, and is now a visual prop of terrorism. If some women have been hoodwinked into believing that they cannot be Muslims without covering their hair, they could at least use headgears other than black (the colour of al-Qaeda) or white (the colour of the Taleban). Green headgear would be less offensive, if only because green is the colour of the House of Hashem, the family of the Prophet.

Muslim men should consider doing away with Taleban and al-Qaeda-style beards. Growing a beard has nothing to do with Islam; the Prophet himself never sported anything more than a vandyke. The bushy beards you see on Oxford Street are symbols of the Salafi ideology that has produced al-Qaeda and the Taleban.

Some Muslims also use al-Qaeda and Taleban-style clothing to advertise their Salafi sentiments. For men this consists of a long shirt and baggy trousers, known as the khaksari (down-to-earth) style and first popularised by Abu Ala al-Maudoodi, the ideological godfather of Islamist terrorism. Muslims who wear such clothes in the belief that it shows their piety, in most cases, are unwittingly giving succour to a brand of Islamist extremism.

It would also be useful if Muslim preachers paid a bit more attention to God, which means doing some theology, rather than making speeches about Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq which are, after all, political, and not religious issues. The excessive politicisation of Islam has created a situation in which the best-known Muslim today is Osama bin Laden.

Islam must decide whether it wants to be a faith or a political movement. It cannot be both without being hijacked by Salafis or Khomeinists who have transformed it into a breeding ground for terror.




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