Rethinking Islamic Reform: Finding Tough Answers the Hard Way

Discussion in 'International Politics' started by ajtr, May 28, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Rethinking Islamic Reform: Finding Tough Answers the Hard Way

    From face veils in France to wannabe terrorists in Times Square, the question of how to "fix Islam" has become a normal but urgent question these days. The same question reigns in Muslim majority countries, where cultural forces clash between the hyper secular and the religiously retrograde. Today, Oxford University weighs in on the issue with its headline event, Rethinking Islamic Reform. The event hosts a conversation between the infamous Tariq Ramadan and the less controversial but equally influential Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson. What distinguishes both the event and the speakers is not the topic of conversation, but its quality, content, and soberness in an age of hyperbole.

    The fact is that on the question of Islam, the media thunderdome has been dominated by two extremes. In one corner, self-styled Muslim critics demand that the Islamic tradition secularize along the same course as western society. In the other corner, are the radically marginal pathologists like Revolution Muslim and Anwar al-Awlaki. In the vast middle lays the conservative silent majority of Muslims, devoted to their religion, distraught with global affairs, and perplexed on how to proceed.

    But this polarization and misplaced energy is not just a media problem. The intellectual debate is caught in the same trap. For example, it has become a common choir on the American academic scene to host conversations between renegade clerics and ivory tower philosophers on the question of Islamic reform. They typically unfold with panelists praising the reemergence of Islam's "rationalist" theological school (Mu'tazilism), deriding the medieval implementation of Shariah law, and triumphantly calling for a philosophical overhaul in Muslim societies that will most certainly overcome the day's crisis.

    Ironically, the problem here isn't just idealism or naïveté, but more that the conversation isn't exactly a new one. Since at least the mid 19th century, Muslim modernist reformers such as Sir Seyyed Ahmad Khan in India (d. 1898) and activist pan-Islamists like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1898) have promoted free thinking and reason in the development of a viable Islam for the modern age.

    The reasons why the exhausted attempts at Islamic reform have not altered the cultural logic of Muslim society writ large isn't because the religion is inherently incompatible with the modern era or that its religious elites are hiding their heads in the sand. It is because the route of reform in Islam has until now has been incorrectly targeted, ill-conceived, and often tainted with imperialist pretensions. Thankfully, Oxford's conversation between Tariq Ramadan and Hamza Yusuf's is one of the first major steps taken by a western institution to move beyond the stagnant dichotomies that have dominated the perennial "clash of civilizations" issue.

    What both scholars possess that so many others wish they did is an aura of authenticity in Muslim circles. The grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, Tariq Ramadan is not only widely respected, but expertly versed of the limits and possibilities of the Islamic legal and theological traditions. Acutely aware of the political sensitivities of Muslims both in western societies and Muslim majority countries, he is uncompromising in his moral certitude and commitment to pragmatism. In the age of Nidal Hassans and Faisal Shahzads, Ramadan represents a viable non-violent outlet for the politically disenfranchised and disillusioned Muslim masses.

    Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson likewise enjoys the popular support of Muslim youth around the world, and especially so in the west. Trained in the centuries old tradition of Muslim scholarship in West Africa and the Middle East, Hanson is an expert in Islamic jurisprudence and the mystical sciences. His speeches never allow an empty seat and his education programs out of the Zaytuna Institute have offered American Muslims an alternative to the Wahhabi petro-dollar paradigm. He is the organic intellectual par excellence to the mainstream Muslim world.

    Rethinking Islamic Reform also marks a growing realization that genuine and viable change in Muslim society will not emerge from goodhearted liberals or renegade clerics who would like to revive the spirit of dead poets and sages of centuries of Muslim past to save the day. Instead, it will grow out of a natural conversation between the traditionally trained scholars of Islam (ulama) and the activist minded modern intellectuals (mufakkirun) that places Muslim pragmatism and Islamic viability at the center. There are cadres of scholars and institutions already undertaking this work, the question remains as to whether or not the powers that be will let it unfold naturally.

    Today's event is a step in the right direction, but the fact that it is taking place at the Oxford Divinity School instead of al-Azhar in Cairo or the Qom seminary in Iran, may be a bad omen. Remember, the Muslim audiences that need to be reached are viscerally averse to foreign meddling in their religion. They are also deeply, deeply conservative. They make the Vatican look like--well--the Huffington Post. So as long as we set aside our fantasies of a Muslim Martin Luther (and King Jr.) rising from the ashes to rescue us, we might just be on the right track.
  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Why Does Tariq Ramadan Cause Such A Stir?

    By Eleanor Goldberg
    Religion News Service

    WASHINGTON (RNS) With an open collared baby blue shirt and Dolce & Gabbana jacket hugging his slim frame, Tariq Ramadan appears the epitome of Western sophistication.

    But from 2004 until just a few months ago, the Department of Homeland Security viewed him with suspicion.

    Ramadan, a 46-year-old Oxford University professor and a golden child of American academia, was banned from the U.S. for six years because of alleged ties to a Muslim charity that supported the militant group Hamas.

    "A silly decision from the Bush administration," as Ramadan prefers to put it now.

    Ramadan, the author of more than 20 books on Islam and the grandson of the founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, is widely considered a go-to scholar on all things Islam. He's made enemies on both sides with his criticisms of both U.S. foreign policy and Islamic fundamentalism.

    Now, six years after he was blocked from taking a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, Ramadan is finally in the U.S. after a federal appeals court ruled the DHS had to rescind the ban, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later approved a 10-year visa.
    Making the rounds on his first U.S. speaking tour, he's quick to address the issue that pops up at the top of a Google search of his name.

    Speaking to a group of journalists this week, Ramadan said his visa was initially rejected under the Patriot Act in an atmosphere of post-9/11 American nervousness.

    When he reapplied and was interviewed at the U.S. embassy in Switzerland, he said, most of the questions related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Iraq war. (He's critical of the U.S. support of Israel and considers the Iraq war illegal.)

    It wasn't until two years later that he learned the reason for his exile: he had contributed 700 euros between 1998 and 2002 to a charity he thought promoted education for Palestinians but actually supported Hamas. The U.S. blacklisted the charity in 2003.

    The ACLU subsequently filed a lawsuit to prevent the U.S. government from banning foreign scholars based on their views.

    "I think, for many of us, it was an astonishing thing to see someone as vibrantly engaged in the kind of work we do excluded by the United States," said Harvard professor Diana Eck, former president of the American Academy of Religion, which joined in the suit.

    Rather than revisit the unpleasantness of the past, the Swiss-born academic is more interested in contemporary issues facing Muslims. For one, he says Western Muslims need to integrate better into society and make a concerted effort to "feel at home."

    "This obsession with foreign policy is not helping us to be citizens," Ramadan said, adding that Muslims do themselves a disservice by constantly focusing on terrorism and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

    It's also a mistake to establish separate Muslim schools, he said, insisting that Muslims need to be involved in all discussions of public policy, from politics to education to the social sciences.

    And while American Muslims may remain "suspicious" about the sincerity of President Obama's overtures to the Islamic world, they are more apt to get involved in the conversation now, according to Ramadan.

    "It's quite clear that the current administration is much more well perceived by Muslims around the world after what we got for eight years," Ramadan said.

    Part of his job, he said, is "trying to promote a shift in the center of gravity of authority in Islam." If you want to be taken seriously by Muslim audiences, "you should be rooted in the tradition," he said, which is why he's trying to develop a network of scholars in the West and in Muslim-majority countries who discuss their interpretations of Islamic scriptures.

    When it comes to the controversial topic of liberating Muslim women abroad, for example, Ramadan says many scholars in Muslim countries tell him in private: "We agree with you. But we aren't going to say it."'

    Ramadan says dialogue is the most effective approach because it's what's worked for him. For 15 years, he said, scholars agreed with Ramadan that female genital mutilation "is wrong and not Islamic." But it wasn't until Jan. 12 that 34 Muslim scholars signed a fatwa banning the practice.

    His message, after the six-year ban, has drawn large audiences during his Washington debut -- even if they also include protestors who view him with lingering unease.

    "Lo and behold," said fellow author Reza Aslan, who also teaches at the University of California, "the earth didn't open up and swallow us up."
  4. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Tariq Ramadan, Muslim Scholar Formerly Banned From U.S., Returns To Country

    NEW YORK — A Muslim scholar who was banned from entering the United States for years has made his first public U.S. appearance since the ban was lifted, saying he looks forward to when he can enter the country without answering questions from authorities on what he plans to speak about.

    Tariq Ramadan spoke Thursday alongside other scholars in a panel discussion at The Cooper Union university in Manhattan. They discussed issues facing Muslim-majority countries and Muslims in Europe and the United States.

    Ramadan, a 47-year-old professor at Oxford University in England, had planned to move to Indiana to take a tenured teaching job at the University of Notre Dame when his U.S. visa was revoked in 2004.

    Authorities said he had donated $1,336 to a charity that gave money to a Palestinian militant group. The American Civil Liberties Union claimed in court that he was being excluded because of his views.

    Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, has said he opposes terrorism and Islamic extremism and promotes peaceful solutions. He has criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq and U.S policies in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

    He and another banned scholar, Adam Habib, from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, were allowed back into the U.S. after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in January signed orders permitting their returns.

    The Department of State said when the orders were signed that it wanted to enable the professors to return to encourage a global debate.

    Ramadan said Thursday he'll be speaking with scholars in Chicago and Detroit before finishing his trip on Monday in Washington, where he will meet with members of Congress.
  5. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Banned Under Bush, Muslim Scholar Tariq Ramadan Returns to US

    A lightning rod in discussions of Muslim identity in both Europe and the United States, Swiss-born scholar Tariq Ramadan has returned to the United States for a series of lectures. His visa was formerly revoked by the State Department in February of 2004.

    Ramadan says he was kept out because of "The fact that I was very critical about the US's foreign policy." Critics claimed he donated to a Hamas-linked charity, and those were the grounds the Bush State Department banned him under, though the charity wasn't officially associated with terror by the US until after Ramadan donated to it. Now, under a new administration, Hillary Clinton has formally lifted the ban on Ramadan's travel to the United States.

    "I just had to wait for one hour," at customs, Ramadan said during in a phone interview after he landed yesterday. "Nothing special."

    But the years-long debate over Ramadan's exclusion -- and, for his vociferous critics, Ramadan himself -- has been extraordinary. His speech tonight at Cooper Union in New York City, sponsored by the ACLU, the PEN American Center and others who fought to bring him here, promises to reignite the controversy. So does a new book by writer Paul Berman out this month that takes aim against Ramadan for allegedly refusing to condemn the stoning of women, and supposed anti-Semitism, among other charges.

    Ramadan is descended from a line of religious thinkers and activists with extensive credentials: his grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, and his father was exiled from the country by Nasser. Out of Egypt his father went to Switzerland, where Tariq Ramadan was born in Geneva in 1962. A Swiss citizen with strong Muslim beliefs, Ramadan has very publicly sought to reconcile both backgrounds.

    About recent developments in his homeland, Ramadan evinces some distress. The November 2009 referendum banning minaret construction there was "a betrayal" of European values.

    For some people in Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands, he says, "the only accepted Muslim seems to be the invisible Muslim," and the problem will in the short term get worse. "The situation is quite bad for the time being."

    The gloomy prophets of a coming "Eurabia," he says, are obsessed with the idea that Muslims "could be a threat to our secular society -- while forgetting the very essence of secular society," freedom of expression and religion.

    "The Muslims in all western countries are abiding by the law. At the end of the day we're seeing that the Muslims aren't the ones changing the laws" -- it's people who have passed the minaret ban, and who want to pass a burqa ban in France.

    After earning a PhD from the University of Geneva (his dissertation was on Nietzsche) Ramadan traveled to Cairo, where he studied Islam at the hallowed Al Azhar University. Since then he has held himself out as a voice of reformist Islam, a man seeking to create a bridge between Europe and Muslims, especially Muslims in Europe.

    For another visitor to Cairo seeking to ease cultural divides -- President Obama, who gave a major speech there last year -- Ramadan seems to feel guarded optimism.

    "I just think that this government is coming back to some of the values that they're advocating, nothing more, nothing less," Ramadan says.

    Of the recent flaps between the White House and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Ramadan asks, "Are these tensions leading towards new policies for Israel, and for Israel to change its policy? This is not happening, not yet. And to tell you, I'm not expecting for anything under this first [Obama term]."

    In the wake of the Fort Hood shootings and the thwarted plot to bomb New York City subways, some say Obama should be concerned with the potential rise in 'homegrown' terrorism. Ramadan believes that, "the great majority of the people are already are already integrated, so we should not look at tiny groups at the margin as a symbol that people are failing to integrate."

    Ramadan's critics, from the nationalist right to the feminist left in both Europe and the US, claim that his brand of integration is far from sufficient. Bernard-Henri Lévy has argued that Ramadan is an anti-Semite for writing a condemnation of French Jewish intellectuals' support of the Iraq War (at least one of the intellectuals Ramadan condemned isn't actually Jewish). Journalist Ian Buruma, on the other hand, says BHL's pique was "vastly overblown," and Ramadan has frequently and explicitly repudiated anti-Semitism.

    Perhaps most famously, in 2003 Nicolas Sarkozy angrily charged that Ramadan excused the stoning of adulterous women in Muslim majority countries.

    Ramadan countered that he had called for a "moratorium" on the practice -- and all capital punishment -- as the first step towards further debate within the Muslim community.

    This is far from satisfying for his detractors, including the formidable writer Paul Berman. In a lengthy 2007 piece for the New Republic, Berman expressed his disdain for a man who refuses to "unambiguously condemn the stoning to death of Muslim women."

    Berman has adapted that article into a new book out this month about Ramadan and his supporters, called The Flight of the Intellectuals. It is guaranteed not to reach a positive assessment. But even Berman supports Ramadan's new visa, though somewhat grudgingly.

    As he told Tablet: "It's a good move for the U.S. to encourage freedom of speech and open debate. It's a mistake, however, to imagine that he has positive contributions to make."

    For his part, Ramadan seems characteristically unruffled by the attention. He rejects the notion that Berman's book is anything new.

    "Paul Berman, I've never met him, but when I read what he wrote, it seemed that he was copying what was already written in Europe," Ramadan says, referring to the several polemics against him already published there.

    And, about that much-noted debate with Sarkozy over stoning, Ramadan finds a significant irony in where the two sparring partners are seven years later. It likely won't impress Berman, but for his foil it's telling.

    Ramadan is "on the ground," fighting for his death penalty moratorium around the world, and according to him "banned from six Muslim majority countries because of this." Sarkozy is the president of France, which maintains good relations with Saudi Arabia -- a kingdom where Ramadan is not welcome, and where women are still threatened with stoning.
  6. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    In Pursuit of Prey, Carrying Philosophy

    Paul Berman’s new book, “The Flight of the Intellectuals,” plural, might as easily have been titled “The Flight of the Intellectual,” singular. It is essentially a booklong polemic against one magazine article: a profile of the Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan, written by Ian Buruma, the Dutch academic and journalist, and published in The New York Times Magazine in 2007. Mr. Berman’s book has already made some noise. Writing in Slate, Ron Rosenbaum compared its stinging ambience, nostalgic to some, to one of “those old Partisan Review smackdowns,” in which Dwight Macdonald or Mary McCarthy cracked some unsuspecting frenemy over the head with a bookcase and a tinkling highball glass. And for sure, everything about “The Flight of the Intellectuals” feels old school, from Mr. Berman’s tone (controlled, almost tantric, high dudgeon) to the spectacle of one respected man of the left pummeling another while the blood flows freely, and no one calls the police.

    Those Partisan Review fights got serious, and so does this book. Mr. Berman accuses Mr. Buruma, in his Times Magazine profile, of not scrutinizing Mr. Ramadan’s family, associations or writings closely enough, of presenting him in a respectful light. Presenting him, that is, as the kind of moderate and charismatic Islamic thinker in whom the West might find a useful intermediary.

    Mr. Berman’s book, portions of which first appeared in The New Republic, is a patient overturning of the rocks that, he argues, Mr. Buruma failed to look under. He writes about historical figures Mr. Ramadan professes to admire and notes the tiny degrees of separation that link them to Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. He points out Mr. Ramadan’s ambiguous comments about things like 9/11, the stoning of women in Muslim countries and violence against Jews. Mr. Berman detects a kind of seventh-century barbarism lurking behind Mr. Ramadan’s genial smile.

    Mr. Berman branches out in his book’s final third to condemn liberal intellectuals (nearly all of them but especially Mr. Buruma and the British historian Timothy Garton Ash) and their house organs, including The New York Review of Books, on another, related, account. He writes that while they have admired Mr. Ramadan, they have been inexplicably critical of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch intellectual who has become a major critic of Islam and, as a consequence, will probably have a large security detail for the rest of her life. Ms. Hirsi Ali’s critics, who include Mr. Buruma and Mr. Garton Ash, find her personality “strident” and humorless, he writes, and feel she isn’t as important as she might be because having renounced Islam, she no longer speaks to or is in touch with the Muslim hive mind.

    About these criticisms of Ms. Hirsi Ali, Mr. Berman is incredulous. “A more classic example of a persecuted dissident intellectual does not exist,” he notes about her. And yet, he writes, she is treated differently from Salman Rushdie, another writer who was subjected to death threats. “How times have changed!” he declaims. “The Rushdies of today find themselves under criticism, contrasted unfavorably in the very best of magazines with Tariq Ramadan,” who had ties to an organization that was known to be anti-Rushdie. “Here is a reactionary turn in the intellectual world — led by people who, until just yesterday, I myself had always regarded as the best of the best.”

    He is withering about why this might be. Quoting another writer, he calls this “the racism of the anti-racists.” As self-hating Westerners, he suggests, Mr. Buruma and Mr. Garton Ash can be seen “groveling to Ramadan, who berates the West” while attacking the Somali dissident who embraces its values.

    Fear is at work too, he says. About the chill in the intellectual climate, Mr. Berman writes: “Two developments account for it — two large new realities that, condensing overhead, have altered the intellectual atmosphere down below, almost without being noticed. The first of those developments is the spectacular and intimidating growth of the Islamist movement since the time of the Rushdie fatwa. The second development is terrorism.”

    Mr. Berman, whose previous books include “A Tale of Two Utopias,” about the 1960s, and “Terror and Liberalism,” is skilled at the art of polemic: he builds his case slowly, citing the recent work of numerous scholars. There is especially fascinating material here about Hitler’s plan, aided by some Islamists, to extend the Final Solution to the Middle East.

    Mr. Berman can be bleakly funny. He criticizes Mr. Garton Ash for pointing out in The New York Review of Books that Ms. Hirsi Ali had been awarded the “Hero of the Month” prize from Glamour magazine, as if this were proof that she couldn’t be taken seriously. Mr. Berman responds, in one of this book’s more memorable utterances: “I can’t help observing that here may be proof, instead, that Glamour magazine nowadays offers a more reliable guide to liberal principles than The New York Review of Books.” Mr. Berman has sensitive aesthetic as well as political antennas. For him, style makes the man. He deplores the “diffident cough” in Mr. Buruma’s writing and finds him “courteous and amiable” to a fault. He’s a writer, Mr. Berman says, who “would never stoop to using a strong adjective like “repulsive,” or any adjective at all, unless it were presented as a double negative.” He is even more brutal about Mr. Ramadan’s “faux esoteric and ecumenical guru tone, suitable for all denominations.” “The Flight of the Intellectuals” is anything but diffident, and watching Mr. Berman pursue his philosophical prey is a bit like playing an academic version of a first-person-shooter video game: Modern Warfare: Bandit Pundit Edition. One’s goggles begin to steam up. Being inside Mr. Berman’s head can occasionally grate. As a writer he’s alternately emotive and pedantic, an emo-wonk. He’s self-congratulatory about his coups of reading and synthesis, his turning up of important details in other people’s footnotes. Yet his own book has no foot- or endnotes at all.

    His litany of charges against the elusive Mr. Ramadan is largely circumstantial, although it must be said that the pile he amasses is plenty damning. Finally, Mr. Berman believes in straight talk and insists that we use words like “fascist” to describe some Islamist ideas rather than “totalitarian.” Why? “It is because totalitarian, being abstract, is odorless. Fascist is pungent. To hear that emphatic f-sound and those double different s’s is to flare your nostrils.”

    Mr. Berman’s nostrils have flared before about fascism. He is a liberal hawk who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, about which he deployed that particular f-word as well. “If only people like you would wake up,” he wrote in Dissent magazine in 2004, “you would see that war against the radical Islamist and Baathist movements, in Afghanistan exactly as in Iraq, is war against fascism.” He may very well be right. Yet fascism is a radioactive word that requires careful handling. It can lead some people — and here’s my own diffident cough — to impulsive action.

    There’s a good deal of inside baseball in “The Flight of the Intellectuals.” Scores are settled that many readers won’t know or care about. But this bracing and volatile book is an important one and devastating in its conclusions about the secret history of some Islamists and especially about the reception of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “It was obvious that Hirsi Ali had received a dreadful treatment from journalists,” Mr. Berman writes, “who ought to have known better.”
  7. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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  8. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    A Latter-day Saint Perspective on Muhammad

    Viewing Muhammad from the understanding of the restored gospel provides greater knowledge of Heavenly Father’s love for His children in all nations.

    Recently I received a phone call from two Church members in Los Angeles who had become acquainted with a Muslim neighbor from Pakistan. When they shared with him the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, his response surprised them. After stating that Muslims accept no prophets after Muhammad, he said that Joseph Smith’s story shared similarities with Muhammad’s. He said, “We believe Muhammad encountered a divine messenger who informed him of his new calling as prophet. He received revelations of new scripture that contains God’s word to mankind, and he established a community of believers that developed into a major world religion.” Knowing little about Muslims and Islam* or about Muhammad, the members were unsure in their responses.

    The issues raised by this experience imply a broader question that is relevant for all Latter-day Saints in view of the Church’s global presence and the increasingly pluralistic societies in which we all live: What is an appropriate Latter-day Saint attitude toward other religions’ claims of divinely inspired prophets, scriptures, visions, and miracles? The following may be helpful and is based on gospel insights I have gained over the years while studying and living in Muslim societies. Seeing Muhammad’s role in religious history from the perspective of the restored gospel provides great understanding of one of history’s most influential spiritual leaders, helps us appreciate Heavenly Father’s love for His children of all nations, and gives principles to guide us in building positive relations with friends and neighbors of other faiths.

    Thoughts on Interfaith Relations

    President Gordon B. Hinckley has consistently advocated dialogue and mutual respect in interfaith relations. He has admonished members of the Church to cultivate “a spirit of affirmative gratitude” for those of differing religious, political, and philosophical persuasions, adding that “we do not in any way have to compromise our theology” in the process. He gave this counsel: “Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.” 1

    President Hinckley’s emphasis on building interfaith understanding is rooted in fundamental gospel principles—humility, charity, respect for eternal truth, and recognition of God’s love for all mankind—taught by Jesus Christ and by ancient and modern prophets. The Savior repeatedly affirmed Heavenly Father’s boundless concern for the well-being of each of His sons and daughters, as in the parable of the lost sheep (see Luke 15). In the parable of the good Samaritan, He taught that one of the keys to true discipleship is to treat others kindly and compassionately in spite of political, racial, or religious differences (see Luke 10:25–37). He denounced intolerance and rivalry among religious groups and the tendency to extol one’s own virtues and deprecate the spiritual status of others. Addressing a parable to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others,” Jesus condemned the pride of the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are” and commended the humility of the publican who implored, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (see Luke 18:9–14).

    The Book of Mormon teaches that Heavenly Father “is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; … and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37; see also 1 Ne. 1:14). Because of this love for His children of all nations, the Lord has provided spiritual light to guide and enrich their lives. Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855–1931) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed that God “is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves.” 2

    Elder B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) of the Seventy also spoke on this doctrine: “While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.” 3

    The Prophet Joseph Smith often expounded on this theme of the universality of God’s love and the related need to remain open to all available sources of divine light and knowledge. “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism,’ ” he said, “is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” 4 The Prophet exhorted Church members to “gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them.” 5

    Church leaders continually have encouraged members to foster amicable relations with people of other faiths by acknowledging the spiritual truth they possess, emphasizing the similarities in belief and lifestyle, and teaching us to disagree agreeably. Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke on this theme to members and nonmembers during an area conference in Tahiti: “Keep all the truth and all the good that you have. Do not abandon any sound or proper principle. Do not forsake any standard of the past which is good, righteous, and true. Every truth found in every church in all the world we believe. But we also say this to all men—Come and take the added light and truth that God has restored in our day. The more truth we have, the greater is our joy here and now; the more truth we receive, the greater is our reward in eternity.” 6

    During October 1991 general conference, President Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we seek to bring all truth together. We seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all the peoples of the earth. Thus we strive to establish peace and happiness, not only within Christianity but among all mankind.” 7

    Likewise, Elder Russell M. Nelson quoted a public statement issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 1992, calling upon “all people everywhere to re-commit themselves to the time-honored ideals of tolerance and mutual respect. We sincerely believe that as we acknowledge one another with consideration and compassion we will discover that we can all peacefully coexist despite our deepest differences.” He then added: “That pronouncement is a contemporary confirmation of the Prophet Joseph’s earlier entreaty for tolerance. Unitedly we may respond. Together we may stand, intolerant of transgression but tolerant of neighbors with differences they hold sacred. Our brothers and sisters throughout the world are all children of God.” 8

    Latter-day Saint Interest in Muhammad

    One of the noteworthy examples of the Latter-day Saint commitment to treasure up true principles and cultivate affirmative gratitude is the admiration that Church leaders have expressed over the years for the spiritual contributions of Muhammad.

    As early as 1855, at a time when Christian literature generally ridiculed Muhammad as the Antichrist and the archenemy of Western civilization, Elders George A. Smith (1817–75) and Parley P. Pratt (1807–57) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles delivered lengthy sermons demonstrating an accurate and balanced understanding of Islamic history and speaking highly of Muhammad’s leadership. Elder Smith observed that Muhammad was “descended from Abraham and was no doubt raised up by God on purpose” to preach against idolatry. He sympathized with the plight of Muslims, who, like Latter-day Saints, found it difficult “to get an honest history” written about them. Speaking next, Elder Pratt went on to express his admiration for Muhammad’s teachings, asserting that “upon the whole, … [Muslims] have better morals and better institutions than many Christian nations.” 9

    Latter-day Saint appreciation of Muhammad’s role in history can also be found in the 1978 First Presidency statement regarding God’s love for all mankind. This declaration specifically mentions Muhammad as one of “the great religious leaders of the world” who received “a portion of God’s light” and affirms that “moral truths were given to [these leaders] by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” 10

    In recent years, respect for the spiritual legacy of Muhammad and for the religious values of the Islamic community has led to increasing contact and cooperation between Latter-day Saints and Muslims around the world. This is due in part to the presence of Latter-day Saint congregations in areas such as the Levant, North Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Southeast Asia. The Church has sought to respect Islamic laws and traditions that prohibit conversion of Muslims to other faiths by adopting a policy of nonproselyting in Islamic countries of the Middle East. Yet examples of dialogue and cooperation abound, including visits of Muslim dignitaries at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City; Muslim use of Church canning facilities to produce halal (ritually clean) food products; Church humanitarian aid and disaster relief sent to predominantly Muslim areas including Jordan, Kosovo, and Turkey; academic agreements between Brigham Young University and various educational and governmental institutions in the Islamic world; the existence of the Muslim Student Association at BYU; and expanding collaboration between the Church and Islamic organizations to safeguard traditional family values worldwide. 11 The recent initiation of the Islamic Translation Series, cosponsored by BYU and the Church, has resulted in several significant exchanges between Muslim officials and Latter-day Saint Church leaders. A Muslim ambassador to the United Nations predicted that this translation series “will play a positive role in the West’s quest for a better understanding of Islam.” 12

    A cabinet minister in Egypt, aware of the common ground shared by Muslims and Latter-day Saints, once remarked to Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that “if a bridge is ever built between Christianity and Islam it must be built by the Mormon Church.” 13 The examples of Latter-day Saint–Muslim interaction mentioned above, together with the Church’s establishment in 1989 of two major centers for educational and cultural exchange in the Middle East (Jerusalem and Amman), reflect the traditional attitude of respect for Islam that Church leaders have exhibited from earliest times. These activities represent tangible evidence of Latter-day Saint commitment to promote greater understanding of the Muslim world and witness an emerging role for the Church in helping to bridge the gap that has existed historically between Muslims and Christians.

    Not shown are North America and South America, whose percentage of Muslims is less than 5 percent. North America has approximately 7 million Muslims, or 2.3 percent of the population, of which 5.5 million are in the United States. South America has approximately 1 million Muslims, accounting for 2 percent of the population. (Map by Tom Child; information courtesy of Oxford University Press.)

    The Life of Muhammad

    Who, then, was Muhammad, and what is there in his life and teachings that has attracted the interest and admiration of Church leaders? What strength and virtues can we find in Muslim experience that, as President Hinckley has suggested, will be helpful in our own spiritual lives?

    At the dawn of the 21st century, Islam is one of the largest and fastest-growing religions in the world. Muslims currently number more than one billion (almost one-fifth of the world’s population), concentrated primarily in Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East, and North Africa, but with significant populations located in Europe and North America. Some even project that Islam will become the most populous religion in the world during the first half of this new century. The roots of this dynamic and, for some people, misunderstood religious movement can be traced back 14 centuries to the humble beginnings and founding work of Muhammad, whom Muslims consider to be the last of a long line of prophets sent by God to teach Islam to the world.

    Muhammad (Arabic, “praised”) was born in 570 c.e. 14 in Mecca, a prosperous city that was a center of caravan trade and religious pilgrimage in the northwest Arabian peninsula. Orphaned in early childhood, he lived a life of poverty as a youth, working as a herdsman for his family and neighbors, an occupation that gave him ample time and solitude to contemplate the deeper questions of life. Muhammad gained a reputation in the community as a trusted arbiter and peacemaker as indicated in the following account:

    “At one time the Quraish [Muhammad’s tribe] decided to rebuild the Ka’ba [sacred shrine], to reset the stones above the foundations. In one of the corners they wanted to put the black stone, but could not decide who should have the honour of placing it there. They would have quarrelled violently if [Muhammad] the young man they all admired and trusted had not come by. They asked [him] … to settle the dispute. He told them to spread a large cloak and place the black stone in the middle. They did so. Then, he asked a man from each of the four clans who were in dispute to take hold of a corner of the cloak. In this way they all shared the honour of carrying the stone.” 15

    At the age of 25, Muhammad married a widow, Khadija, who was 15 years his senior and a prosperous caravan merchant. She knew of his reputation for honesty and hard work, and she made the proposal of marriage that turned out to be a successful and happy one, producing four daughters and two sons. For the next 15 years Muhammad was engaged with Khadija in running the family business and raising their family. It was during this period also that he retreated often into the solitude of the desert to pray, meditate, and worship. He had become dissatisfied with the corruption, idolatry, and social inequities that plagued Mecca; he sought for a higher truth that would provide peace, justice, and spiritual fulfillment for him and his people.

    In 610 c.e., when he was 40, his spiritual seeking and preparation reached a culmination. According to Islamic history, one night while Muhammad was engaged in prayer and meditation on Mount Hira near Mecca, the angel Gabriel appeared to him to deliver a message from God (Arabic, Allah). 16 Three times the angel commanded that Muhammad “Recite! In the name of thy Lord who created, created man of a blood-clot. Recite! And thy Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the pen—Taught man that he knew not” (Qur’an 96:1–5). 17

    For a period of 22 years, from 610 c.e. to his death in 632, Muhammad received communications that he said were from Allah, by way of the angel Gabriel, and that he memorized verbatim and recited orally to his disciples. These oral recitations of Allah’s mind and will are collectively referred to as al-Qur’an (“recitation”) by Muslims. However, Muhammad’s preaching against idolatry, polytheism, female infanticide, and other religious and social corruptions met fierce opposition in Mecca. His message was rejected in this early period in Mecca, and he and his fledgling community of converts, mostly a few family members and close friends, were shunned, persecuted, and even tortured.

    Then a group of men came from the town Yathrib and asked Muhammad to act as an arbiter in the squabbles which were ruining their town. Muhammad saw an opportunity to alleviate the suffering of his followers and agreed to leave Mecca. First he sent his followers, and then he himself went to the town, which would thereafter be known as Madinat an-Nabi (“City of the Prophet”), or simply Medina. This emigration (Arabic, hijra), from Mecca to Medina, took place in 622 c.e., the year commemorated as the starting point of the Muslim Hijri calendar. Muslims saw in the Hijra a fundamental turning point in the life of the prophet and in the nature of the Muslim community. From being a rejected preacher, Muhammad became a statesman, legislator, judge, educator, and military leader.

    In Medina, the Muslims had freedom to establish themselves securely, develop their institutions for governance and education, and become a prosperous community, in contrast to their status in Mecca as a persecuted, marginal religious minority.

    A few years after the Hijra, Muhammad was able to return to the city of Mecca, where his teachings were gradually adopted. Today Mecca is considered by Muslims to be the spiritual center of Islam and the holiest of cities, with Medina as the second and Jerusalem the third holiest cities.

    In 632, at the age of 62, Muhammad died unexpectedly after a short fever. By any measure Muhammad was phenomenally successful during his career, even though his name and achievements have been the subject of controversy over the centuries in Western civilization. During the last half of the 20th century, however, non-Muslim historians have become more objective and complimentary, acknowledging that Muhammad’s achievements in both political and religious realms assure him a place as one of the most influential figures in history.

    Contrary to Western civilization’s stereotype of Muhammad as a false prophet or enemy of Christians, Muslim sources portray a man of unfailing humility, kindness, good humor, generosity, and simple tastes. Though he smiled often, it is said he seldom laughed because, as one famous hadith (report of Muhammad’s sayings or actions) states, “If you knew what I know you would cry much and laugh little.” His gentle humor is evident in the following story:

    “One day a little old woman came to him to ask whether old wretched women would also go to Paradise. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘there are no old women in Paradise!’ Then, looking at her grieved face, he said with a smile: ‘They will all be transformed in Paradise, for there, there is only one youthful age for all!’ ”

    He dispensed wise and practical advice to followers. When a man asked if he needed to tie his camel up, since he already trusted in God’s help and protection, Muhammad replied: “First tether it, and then trust in God.” Some reports indicate that Muhammad’s family were poor and often hungry, only able to afford coarse bread at times. His statement, faqri fakhri, “My poverty is my pride,” reveals his joy in simple pleasures, and this saying was later adopted as a slogan by Muslim ascetics. He was especially fond of children, allowing his two young grandsons to climb on his back while he was performing prayers. A man once criticized him for kissing his grandson Hasan, saying, “I have 10 boys but have never kissed any of them.” Muhammad answered, “He who does not show mercy will not receive mercy.” 18

    In his last speech in the mosque in Medina, given on the day he died, Muhammad displayed humility and magnanimity in bidding farewell to his community after more than 30 years of sacrifice on their behalf: “If there is any man whose honour I might have injured, here I am to answer for it. If I have unjustifiably inflicted bodily harm on anyone, I present myself for retribution. If I owe anything to anyone, here is my property and he may help himself to it. … Nobody should say: ‘I fear enmity and rancor of the Messenger of God.’ I nurse no grudge towards anyone. These things are repugnant to my nature and temperament. I abhor them so.” 19

    With this view of Muhammad in mind, we can understand why Muslims commonly bless his name when it is mentioned in speech or writing, invoke his name in conversations, and celebrate his birthday. Pious Muslims strive to emulate his example in every aspect of life: mode of dress, style of grooming, table manners, religious rituals, and benevolence toward others.

    The Teachings of Muhammad

    Islamic life revolves around five basic principles that are outlined in general terms in the Qur’an and expounded in the teachings and customs (Arabic, sunna) of Muhammad. These five pillars are the witness of faith, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Some examples of Muhammad’s teachings on charitable giving and fasting will illustrate his manner of teaching and his central role in Muslim life.

    The principle of almsgiving is designed to care for the poor and to foster empathy in the community of believers. The Qur’an states that charity and compassion, not mechanical observance of rituals, define one’s worthiness in God’s sight (2:177). Muhammad’s sayings clearly teach the practice of charity:

    “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

    “Each person’s every joint must perform a charity every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it is a charity; a good word is a charity; every step you take to prayers is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is charity.”

    “Charity extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire.”

    “Smiling to another person is an act of charity.”

    “He who sleeps with a full stomach knowing that his neighbor is hungry [is not a believer].” 20

    Muslims view fasting as having a dual purpose: to bring about a state of humility and surrender of one’s soul to God, and to foster compassion and care for the poor in the community. Thus, fasting and almsgiving go hand in hand: denying of oneself cannot be complete without giving of oneself.

    I was reminded of this principle among Muslims, and the profound influence of Muhammad’s example in their lives, while living in Cairo, Egypt, during the holy month of fasting, Ramadan. 21 My family and I were invited by a Muslim friend, Nabil, to participate in his family’s evening meal in which they broke their fast. As we entered their modest apartment in one of the most impoverished quarters of Cairo, I noticed that one of the rooms was occupied by numerous peasant women (distinguishable by their black clothing) and their children. They were all sitting on the floor with food spread out before them on a cloth, quietly waiting for the call to prayer that marks the end of fasting each day. When I asked if they were his relatives, he replied: “No, I don’t know any of them. It is our habit to invite strangers off the street who cannot afford good food to share our Ramadan meal. We do this because it was one of the customs of our prophet, Muhammad.”

    I was deeply moved by my Muslim friend’s unselfishness and compassion for the poor, and humbled by his good example in practicing a principle that I had learned from the Bible years before but had rarely observed: “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; … but when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee” (Luke 14:12–14).

    A Latter-day Saint Perspective

    How, then, might Latter-day Saints regard the Muslim community? The most helpful approach is to recognize the truths and values we share with our Muslim brothers and sisters, even while politely acknowledging that theological differences exist. Certainly Latter-day Saints do not agree with Islamic teachings that deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, the need for modern prophets, or the principle of eternal progression. But by being humble and open to spiritual light wherever it may be found, we benefit from the religious insights of Muslims and affirm similarities in belief such as faith, prayer, fasting, repentance, compassion, modesty, and strong families as cornerstones of individual spirituality and community life. 22

    In a recent meeting with Muslim dignitaries, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles focused on the common spiritual heritage of Mormons and Muslims. After quoting a verse from the Qur’an, he observed:

    “God is the source of light in heaven and on earth. We share the belief with you. We resist the secular world. We believe with you that life has meaning and purpose. … We revere the institution of the family. … We salute you for your concern for the institution of the family. … Mutual respect, friendship, and love are precious things in today’s world. We feel those emotions for our Islamic brothers and sisters. Love never needs a visa. It crosses over all borders and links generations and cultures.” 23

    The Prophet Joseph Smith, in one of his most eloquent pronouncements on tolerance and compassion, encouraged the Saints to expand their vision of the human family, to view people of other faiths and cultures as our Heavenly Father does and not according to the “narrow, contracted notions of men.” He taught that the Father will take complex personal, political, and social circumstances into account at the last day and render final judgment based on a divine, merciful perspective that surpasses our limited human understanding:

    “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of the contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes ‘His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.’ He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. He will judge them, ‘not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,’ those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.” 24

    In response to the interfaith dilemma raised by the Church members in Los Angeles, I was grateful to state that we belong to a church that affirms the truths taught by Muhammad and other great teachers, reformers, and religious founders. We recognize the goodness reflected in the lives of those in other religious communities. While we do not compromise revealed eternal truths of the restored gospel, we never espouse an adversarial relationship with other faiths. Rather, in accordance with modern prophetic counsel, we seek to treasure up that which is virtuous and praiseworthy in other faiths and to cultivate an attitude of “affirmative gratitude” toward them. As Latter-day Saints, we believe that it is vital to respect and benefit from the spiritual light found in other religions, while seeking humbly to share the additional measure of eternal truth provided by latter-day revelation.
    Last edited: May 28, 2010
  9. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Can Jihadis Be Rehabilitated?

    As U.S. policymakers become increasingly uneasy about the fate of the remaining detainees currently held at Guantánamo Bay, greater attention is being paid to so-called jihadist rehabilitation programs that have been established abroad. Numerous governments, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Singapore, Canada, and Britain, have established programs that seek either to rehabilitate Islamist terrorists or to prevent further radicalization of jihadist sympathizers. Different states tailor their programs to the mores, laws, and needs of their societies. Muslim-majority countries concentrate on radicals who have either crossed the line into actual terrorist activities or who are active members in Islamist organizations deemed to be a threat to the state. Western initiatives focus instead on individuals who may seek camaraderie with extremist groups online or at local mosques; their programs seek to forestall further radicalization. While there is a clear divergence in approach, both must answer the same question: Have their efforts been successful or have they merely released detainees into their respective societies who feign detoxification but whose commitment to jihad has merely gone underground? The wrong answer to this question poses a serious threat to global, as well as local security.

    Egypt's "Soft" Approach
    In 1997, Egypt became the birthplace for a new approach to counterterrorism when it allowed imprisoned members of the Islamic Group (Al-Gama'a al-Islamiya or GI), a violent offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, to meet and reevaluate their core ideology, hoping they might renounce violence as the parent organization did in the 1970s. That year, imprisoned leaders issued a cease-fire, and a few years later, after consulting with Islamic scholars from Al-Azhar University, high-ranking members of the organization released twenty-five volumes of revisions to their philosophy, entitled Tashih al-Mafahim (Corrections of concepts).[1] The revisions, for example, argue that Islam does not permit killing or terrorizing non-Muslim civilians and discusses the dangers that Al-Qaeda poses to Muslims worldwide.[2] The group was also permitted to keep its leadership within the prison in the hope that once senior members renounced violence, they would help convince others to follow a more moderate path. In 2007, imprisoned leaders of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Al-Gihad al-Islami al-Masri or GIM), another violent Islamist group founded in the late 1970s, followed in the footsteps of GI by instituting what they called their own "collective reform." With the support of Egyptian security authorities, incarcerated GIM leaders, including founder Sayyed Imam al-Sharif (aka Dr. Fadl), were allowed to hold meetings with other imprisoned members. In May 2007, Sharif publicly condemned violence using the pages of the influential London-based daily, Asharq al-Awsat to make his announcement.[3] In response, prison security authorities began to separate those prisoners who objected to this new initiative from those willing to follow Sharif's path and renounce violence.[4]
    By encouraging extremists to reevaluate their groups' ideologies, Egyptian authorities were able to get leaders of GI and GIM ostensibly to revise their strategies and steer members away from violence. At the same time, allowing the leadership to stay intact may have helped legitimize these groups and their messages. Over the years, however, these groups have splintered into factions, some of which refuse to acknowledge these nonviolent reforms. For example, prominent Muslim Brotherhood member Essam el-Erian, who had apparently wearied of reform initiatives for not providing solutions to members waiting on real-world reform, complained: "We welcome these revisions because we have called for many years to stop violence … But these revisions are incomplete. They reject violence, but they don't offer a new strategy for reform and change."[5]

    Although Egypt's counter-radicalization program has been called "the most extensive of any Arab country,"[6] accurate recidivism rates for formerly imprisoned members of these terrorist organizations are hard to come by. One source notes that the program has not been "actively pursued."[7] Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has released hundreds of prisoners whose once-militant leaders renounced violence.[8]

    It is far from clear whether these jailhouse conversions are part of a collective effort to fake cooperation and ensure a quick release of members or whether they are sincere. Despite this, other Muslim-majority countries are now following the Egyptian example, using counselors and clerics to de-radicalize terrorist detainees and trying to make sure that the "right" message is taught.

    Yemeni Attempts

    Yemeni judge Hamoud al-Hitar began visiting radical Muslim prisoners held in Yemeni detention centers and engaging them in theological debates as early as 2000.[9] In 2002, he was named head of the Dialogue Committee, an initiative called for by presidential decree, with a brief of rehabilitating imprisoned jihadists.[10] With ideology at the core of radical organizations, Yemeni officials thought that by dialoguing and correcting beliefs, violence would be rejected by inmates once freed. The committee planned on selecting a small group of prisoners, questioning them about their views on Islam, and challenging them to use Qur'anic texts to justify their resort to violence.

    The results of the program have been poor, with Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh admitting to only a 60 percent success rate.[11] Yemen has released five hundred prisoners, and many are known to have returned to their violent pasts,[12] making it one of Al-Qaeda's top countries for recruits. The ineffectiveness of the Yemeni initiative lay in the ease with which detainees could go through the motions of de-radicalization by signing a slip of paper, being granted their freedom, and only being required to check in regularly with their parole officers. Dozens have returned to violent jihad and have been recaptured by U.S. forces; the program has even become a joke among detainees. As one detainee interviewed by Newsweek put it, "To be frank, everyone was making fun of [Judge Hitar]."[13]

    The program was forced to shut down in 2005, but Yemen is now being pressured by U.S. counterterrorism officials to create a new facility for detainees returning from Guantánamo Bay (nearly one hundred of the approximately 229 remaining detainees are from Yemen).[14] However, President Saleh refuses to commence construction on a center without U.S. funds; he has claimed he was promised $11 million for the center.[15] According to one source, the prisoners in the original program saw it as an insincere attempt to bolster Yemen's reputation as a country tough on its terrorists. Saleh's current refusal to act bolsters the claim of one of Hitar's former students: "We all understood that it was just extortion to take money from the Americans. They were just playing with us."[16]

    The Saudi Model

    The Saudi Arabian government also faced skepticism from its prisoners when it first began the Munasaha (advisory committee) initiative in its prisons in 2004, but since then, it has managed to convince detainees that the scholars who run the program are respectable clerics rather than government puppets.[17] The kingdom's overall strategy goes in English by the name PRAC for Prevention, Rehabilitation, and AfterCare[18] and includes lectures arranged by the Ministry of Education as well as published material condemning violence along with government-sponsored programs aimed at deterring citizens from radicalism. Exactly how this is accomplished is not entirely clear, as the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam which serves as a basis for all these efforts, is arguably one of the most extreme versions of the faith as well as the official religion of Saudi Arabia. For example, the state cannot condemn jihad itself as the concept is rooted in the Qur'an. Instead, Saudi clerics employed by the PRAC initiative are forced to stipulate conditions under which it is acceptable to take up arms instead of fully denouncing the practice.[19]

    The Munasaha program is conducted in Saudi prisons, which have been updated to fit the needs of jihadist detainees. New prisoners are interviewed and examined for psychological problems, and their individual belief systems are evaluated. Unlike typical prisons, each cell contains a television that transmits religious lectures,[20] and the inmates are able to debate opinions with scholars via intercom. The Saudis claim that from 2004 to 2007 only 3 to 5 percent of parolees[21] in the Munasaha program have returned to extremist action, but it must be noted that the initiative itself is self-selecting.[22] Reliable statistics have not been made available, and there are reasons to think the Saudis may want to present a positive image for themselves, given their vulnerability to the charge that their own clergy are among the most extreme. Those who participate in the program are those willing to renounce their beliefs; many were new recruits to jihadist activity, and there is evidence to suggest they are as susceptible to persuasion by Munasaha counseling as they were previously to extremist mentors.[23] Many in the program seem to have received a poor religious education, unlike the hard-line jihadi leaders captured outside of the country and transferred to Saudi hands from Guantánamo.

    In 2007, counseling for terrorists expanded in Saudi Arabia to several halfway houses, collectively known as the Care Center, for post-prison continuation of rehabilitation. In November 2008,[24] Katherine Zoepf described the grounds of the center, which included swimming pools, volleyball courts, PlayStations, and ping pong tables. Upon arrival, detainees are given clothes, watches, and candy bars to ensure their comfort. Classes are offered which break down terms such as jihad and takfir (condemning fellow Muslims as unbelievers) in ways that match the Saudi government's definition of "correct" Islam (which views many non-Wahhabi Muslims as heretical). Instead of forbidding jihad, for example, the program teaches the conditions under which it is acceptable (i.e. with the approval of the Saudi government and the permission of one's parents). Family members are encouraged to visit the facility, and both the detainee and a family member must sign a pledge renouncing violence before the prisoner's discharge. On release from the program, the detainee is given several thousand dollars, a car, and sometimes additional money for marrying.[25] Those deemed to be successfully reformed are encouraged to return to the Care Center and share their stories with those currently enrolled in the program and mentor prisoners.

    Should a parolee return to violence, the entire family may be punished.[26] When "graduates" Muhammad al-Oufi and Said al-Shihri appeared in an Al-Qaeda video in January 2009, their families immediately released statements denouncing them as "irreversible deviant members of society. "[27] In the video, Oufi specifically mentioned the program, warning of the Saudi attempts to reform extremists: "We warn our fellow prisoners [from Guantánamo] about this Care program ...We were used ...They tried to lead us away from Islam. But thank God, we were able to escape their power."[28] One Guantánamo returnee expressed disgust at Oufi and Shihri's actions, saying, "They have forgotten the effort extended by the state to set them free. They [should] have been very grateful and thankful to the government for the confidence it has placed in them instead of biting the hand extended to them. It shows that they are untrustworthy and don't deserve this generous and noble treatment."[29]

    The Care Center program initially boasted a low recidivism rate. Then, in early 2009, the Saudis released a list of eighty-five wanted terrorism suspects,[30] eleven of whom were graduates of the counseling initiative. Saudi officials remain convinced that their program works and note a recidivism rate of 10-20 percent, [31] a number some claim is inflated in part by the higher percentage of hard-line radicals who have come straight from Guantánamo Bay and by the inclusion of those who have failed or refused to participate in the program but remain detained. A low recidivism rate would be of real significance, given the central role of Saudi radicals in international jihad. But it is not clear how graduates of the program who are not recidivists are able to retain their commitment to moderation while living within normal Saudi-Wahhabi society, a society that is openly tolerant of levels of extremism that would be troubling in the West.

    Despite this, in July 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Justice commended the Care Center for its efforts at de-radicalizing detainees.[32] It is unclear what was behind this public praise, fueling speculation that the Obama administration was seeking a quick way to fulfill its pledge to empty Guantánamo by January 2010.

    American Programs in Iraq

    The U.S. military contends that the programs it has developed have yielded positive results.[33] Initially, U.S. military officials admitted that the detention centers they operated were breeding extremists; captured terrorists acted as recruiters and were turning formerly moderate detainees into radicals. The development of a rehabilitation program inspired by the Saudi model quickly followed this discovery. Task Force 134, the outfit charged with overseeing coalition detainee operations, staked out a new approach intended to incorporate detention into the broader U.S. counterinsurgency strategy. The plan hinged on tactics that sought to segregate extremists, nurture moderates, and ensure first-rate care and custody for every detainee. Each incoming detainee now undergoes a thorough background check, and psychologists analyze education, skills, motivation, and religiosity, enabling authorities to separate recruiters, who may be looking for prisoners to radicalize, from the other inmates.[34]

    Task Force 134, which oversees two camps for detainees, offers more than the theological debates upon which other rehabilitation programs depend. Alongside religious discussions conducted by U.S.-vetted Iraqi imams, Iraqis are taught to read and write (64 percent were found to be illiterate),[35] enabling them to read the religious texts for themselves for the first time.[36] They also follow a curriculum that includes English, mathematics, and other foundational classes. Work programs are another important feature of the Task Force 134 program, training Iraqis in fields such as carpentry, masonry, welding, and textile manufacturing.

    According to the U.S. government, this education initiative has proven immensely successful; Iraqi parents whose children have not been detained "have petitioned to enroll [them] in the program,"[37] and some detainees have stayed past their release dates to finish their studies. Between January and September 2008, approximately one hundred detainees were recaptured out of the over fifteen thousand released from the "Anti-Jihad U" (as some troops refer to the program).[38] Major General Douglas Stone, formerly responsible for both camps, cited a recidivism rate of detainees released early in the program's evolution at about 10-15 percent; however, in March 2009, he claimed the rate had plummeted to about 1 percent,[39] a remarkable drop that should, perhaps, be viewed skeptically.

    Singapore's Approach

    The issue of releasing radical detainees into societies in which Muslims are a minority poses a separate set of problems. After the 2001-02 arrests of more than thirty members of the Southeast Asian branch of the terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah (Islamic community), who were plotting attacks in Singapore,[40] the government there founded the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) to de-radicalize these terrorists.[41] With a Muslim population of 16 percent, Singapore chose to act cautiously when rehabilitating offenders, working on amending their beliefs instead of administering harsh measures. Nearly forty Islamic scholars and religious leaders make up a group dedicated to "deprogramming" detainees. By approaching the jihadists on religious terms, the RRG seeks to treat the problem at its root. As one security officer explained, "Once you have taken an oath of God, it will take another man of God to undo it."[42]

    Counselors hold one-on-one sessions with inmates to challenge radical ideologies and meet with detainees' families to ensure extremism has not "infected" other relatives. The government provides financial support for families, secures jobs for the detainees once they are freed, and requires counseling after release. Forty former terrorists (two-thirds of detainees since 2001) have been rehabilitated and released, and as of May 2009, it seems none have returned to extremist activities.[43] The remaining third, deemed unready to reenter society, have been kept in the program. If these figures are valid, they would suggest that Singapore's system is moderately effective. According to William Dobson, former managing editor of Foreign Policy, "A detainee in Singapore is not released until his case officer, a psychologist, and the religious counselor signs [sic] off. Even then the decision goes to the prime minister's cabinet to give its approval."[44] Furthermore, Singapore's privacy laws allow for greater monitoring of individuals and help the government keep tabs on those released.

    The U.K.'s Ounce of Prevention

    Unlike programs in Muslim-majority countries and Singapore, or U.S. efforts in Iraq, the detoxification program developed in Great Britain is geared towards preventive measures before high-risk individuals resort to violence. Its success is even harder to determine since there is no clear way of measuring whether someone with jihadist sympathies would have actually crossed the line into terrorism.

    The Channel Project, an English initiative developed in 2007 and run by the Association of Chief Police Officers,[45] began in Lambeth (a section of London) and Lancashire and has expanded to eleven (soon to be fifteen) sites across the United Kingdom. According to the British Home Office, more than two hundred individuals (some as young as thirteen, others as old as fifty) have been referred to the program, which they state involves police officers working alongside members of Muslim communities to identify those who seem particularly vulnerable to the teachings of Muslim extremists.[46] The project first came to the public's attention when a teenager publicly detailed how he had been "groomed" for jihad in a south London mosque.[47] Along with forty-five other young men, the youth received rehabilitation sessions in an educational center attached to the same mosque in which he was first recruited for jihad.

    The authors of the program state that it is designed to address not only the version of Islam that was taught to the youths but also includes activities designed to combat feelings of "estrangement from family or community,"[48] this despite mounting evidence that would-be and actual U.K. jihadists were integrated into British society.[49] There are additional concerns about which instructors the British authorities may have chosen to steer the detainees away from radicalism. Tariq Ramadan, for example, whose bona fides as a "moderate" have been sharply challenged,[50] was hired by the government following the 7/7 London bombings to argue against terrorism to U.K. Muslims.[51]

    While there are claims that as of June 2009, none of those individuals referred to the Channel Project has gone on to commit an offense,[52] this is scarcely enough time to accurately assess the program's success. More telling is a recent report that many incarcerated British Muslims are refusing to participate in rehabilitation sessions or court-ordered courses dedicated to affecting attitudinal and behavioral changes in a detainee. As one prisoner explained, "It is an established concept within the Sharia that a Muslim must not speak about the haraam—prohibited things—and certainly should not advertise past mistakes to their peers."[53] Meanwhile, there are reports that Muslims in British prisons are converting others and taking control of various criminal matters.[54]

    Notwithstanding the uncertain efficacy of the Channel Project, the Scottish Preventing Violent Extremism Unit decided to develop its own "tartanised" version of the program. In addition to radical Muslims, the program will target those "lured into other forms of political violence, such as fanatics on the fringes of Scottish nationalism or the animal rights movement."[55] Project organizers hope that community members such as teachers and parents will refer suspects for "interventions." It is far from clear how successful such a program can be as it lumps together populations susceptible to the promptings of religious figures with secular groups like the League Against Cruel Sports (anti-fox hunting).

    Canadian Efforts

    On the other side of the Atlantic, Sheikh Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin presented a 12-step detoxification program to members of various Canadian Muslim communities and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in December 2008. Amiruddin, a Sufi cleric, has been a vocal critic of the Wahhabist interpretations of Islam inserted into Qur'ans imported from Saudi Arabia and has himself been criticized by his compatriots for betraying Canadian Muslims.[56] The project emphasizes the importance of peace and tolerance in a secular community like Canada and counsels against "a narrow-minded brand of the faith."[57] The plan was sponsored by Mohammed Shaikh, the imam of Toronto's Al-Noor mosque, who speaking of Muslim radicals stated: "Those addicted to alcohol are locked within a certain thinking pattern that makes them rely on alcohol. The same applies to extremists who can only think about events around them in one way."[58]

    Shaikh and Canadian Muslim convert Robert Heft have used Amiruddin's strategies in their Specialized De-radicalization Intervention Program to stress interfaith acceptance and show that Al-Qaeda's teachings are theologically incorrect.[59] The steps included in the Heft detoxification program are intended to promote understanding of other religions and explain how extremists misinterpret events in Islamic history to promote their agenda. Some of these steps include "using verses from the Holy Koran that speak of peace and good conduct"; learning about Muhammad's "mercy, kind manner, humble attitude, wisdom, patience"; "using hadith … that provide ethics and other moral training"; exploring stories from history to see the "contexts and underlying factors, not always [to the] glory of God"; and exploring the "interconnectedness of Judaism, Christianity and Islam."[60]

    Heft and Shaikh hope members of the Toronto 18, a terrorist group that planned to carry out a three-day bombing assault across Canada,[61] will be referred to the program upon their release from prison. They hope to reintegrate these jihadists into Canadian society. Although the program has received coverage from several Canadian newspapers, no recidivism rate has been published, as it has not officially released any graduates. This makes it impossible to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.


    The question for the U.S. government grows ever more pressing: When Guantánamo Bay closes, where should these detainees be sent? And can the urge to return to violent action actually be suppressed by ideological counseling?

    While it seems de-radicalization programs are helping to ease jihadist detainees back into society, former prisoners may still possess ideological sympathies for terrorist groups and subsequently fall back into earlier, radical behaviors. The Saudi program, previously praised by policymakers, has recently come under fire. Said al-Shihri, a Saudi program "graduate" and former inmate at Guantánamo Bay, is the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen and has been linked to the attempted airline bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane on Christmas day.[62]

    Even if the Saudi program were considered an unequivocal success, not all countries can afford resource-intensive initiatives like the Saudi Arabian "aftercare" program. Additionally, there is the issue of the nature of the Islamic norm that released prisoners are expected to follow and how that might impact global security. The Saudi model, for example, is based on a Salafi perspective, which has its own narrow version of who is and is not a kafir (apostate) and how such reprobates should be treated.

    The programs developed in Muslim-minority countries may become serious assets in efforts to combat homegrown radicalism. Graduates do not face quite the same temptation of returning to, or even taking up, violent action that they might encounter in Muslim-majority states. Nevertheless, pressures are there as long as the Muslim communal institutions in these countries vacillate between rejecting jihadist ideologies and sympathizing with their long-term goals.

    Government-provided figures on recidivism and signed pledges are not accurate gauges for the success of de-radicalization efforts. The few success rates published by authorities cover such a short period of time as to be close to meaningless. Accurate numbers collected over a prolonged period of time may eventually offer a truer measure of achievement or failure but without a way of comparing the behavior of those who have undergone these programs with those who have not, assessing success rates becomes an unconvincing exercise.

    Monitoring of parolees' associations and Internet activities may, to a degree, help determine the success of these programs, but ultimately, the primary way to measure how many detainees leave the programs still radicalized and dedicated to violence is if they resort to violence. While the limited data would indicate that the majority have not, they can continue to support jihad in other nonviolent but effective ways: Groups such as Al-Qaeda will always need recruiters and fundraisers to help run their operations. Other parolees may seek the path of "soft jihad" by engaging in frivolous lawsuits against opponents, shutting down forums for free speech and criticism, invoking hate speech laws, and working to impose Shari'a in Western nations. By attacking the problem from both ideological and societal perspectives, these programs may be aiding counterterrorism efforts. Time will tell as to their effectiveness. A healthy amount of skepticism needs to be maintained before any program can be credited as a cure for jihad.
  10. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Can Euro/Western Islam go through renaissance just as Roaman Christianity was shaped by around Constantine.
  11. Calanen

    Calanen Regular Member

    Jun 10, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Ah brother Tariq, the stealth jihadist. He was too radical for the Dutch, but still good enough for Obama messiah. He was formerly a paid employee of the Iranian propaganda government mouthpiece Press TV:

    Rotterdam fires Tariq Ramadan over Iranian TV show
    Published: 18 August 2009 14:19 | Changed: 19 August 2009 15:28

    By Mark Hoogstad
    The Rotterdam city government wants to break ties with the Muslim philosopher Tariq Ramadan, sources at city hall say.

    Ramadan (46) has been an adviser on integration for the city of Rotterdam for two years. Recently, he has come under criticism because he hosts a weekly talk show on the Iranian TV station PressTV, which is financed by the Tehran regime.

    The sources at Rotterdam city hall said the board of council executives and the mayor feel Ramadan has lost credibility as an adviser on integration issues. The decision was expected to be made official after a 2 p.m. board meeting on Tuesday.

    Rotterdam hired the Egyptian-Swiss theologist to help 'bridge the divide' between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. The city government also funds Ramadan's chair at the Erasmus University, where he has been a visiting professor of Identity and Citizenship since 2007.
    Ramadan, whose principal message is that Islam and European culture do not have to be at odds, is a controversial figure. He already came under fire in the Netherlands in April because of statements that were allegedly homophobic and misogynistic.

    The right-wing liberal party VVD dropped out of the local coalition after the city decided to extend Ramadan's contract for another two years. An investigation commissioned by the city had come to the conclusion that the allegations against Ramadan were unfounded.

    The Rotterdam city government was surprised last week when it learned about Ramadan's cooperation with the Iranian TV channel. Three local opposition parties immediately called for his resignation, as did the ruling Christian democrats, CDA, in the Dutch parliament.

    Ramadan defended his position in a letter to NRC Handelsblad on Tuesday saying: "The present controversy says far more about the alarming state of politics in the Netherlands than about my person."

    Brother Tariq is a very slippery jihadist who is able to easily manipulate the Western liberal press, and Western liberal governments it would seem.

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