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Ed Webb

Muslim Sicily and the First Reconquista - Byzantine Emporia - 0 views

  • the island grew in some ways more cosmopolitan. Sicily had been something of a backwater under Byzantium, lying at the furthest reaches of the empire. Muslim Sicily was much more central to the Islamic world: it enjoyed easy communication with the friendly ports of Syria, Egypt, Spain, and North Africa.
  • The island’s governor transferred the capital to Palermo and undertook a major building program there. Palaces, mosques, baths, and public buildings were erected to make the city worthy of a great kingdom. The population swelled as Palermo drew people from all over, soon making it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean.
  • Palermo soon began to rival Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, and Cordoba.
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  • The Arabs introduced new crops and irrigation techniques, turning the island into a major producer of pistachios, citrus, sugarcane, and cotton. These cash crops were exported to all the major ports of the Mediterranean.
  • Pirates were expelled from their nest in southern France. Genoa, recovering from complete destruction by Arab pirates in 934, and Pisa, which also suffered devastating raids, began undertaking retaliatory expeditions. They started by clearing out bases on Corsica and Sardinia, and eventually went on to raid Ifriqiya itself.
  • as with the Spanish Reconquista and the Crusades, the reconquest of Sicily was spearheaded by warriors from northern Europe
  • Muslims, Jews, and Byzantine Christians were all allowed a dignity and freedom of worship unheard of elsewhere in either Christian or Islamic lands. Indeed, they were treated with more than just haughty indifference; men of merit were held in high esteem, whatever their religion. Talented Greeks and Arabs were given high positions as administrators, and craftsmen of all faiths were employed by the court.
  • A large army was sent from the empire’s eastern provinces to Italy, where the commanders set about raising auxiliaries. The Normans were always eager for battle and loot, and so a corps of several hundred knights joined the army. Among its leaders was one William de Hauteville, accompanied by two of his younger brothers. The force crossed the Straits of Messina, and met with initial success. But after two years, the expedition fell apart from factional squabbles. First, the Normans abandoned the enterprise. They punched far above their weight and were crucial to several victories, but felt they received an inferior share of the spoils. Then a conflict between the Byzantine general and admiral caused the former to be recalled to Constantinople, dooming any chance of victory.
  • From the papacy’s perspective, the conquest of Muslim Sicily would serve several purposes. First and foremost, it would eliminate a dangerous enemy of Rome. Sicily was the nearest base for the Muslim sea-raiders that had long plagued Christian lands in the western Mediterranean. Arab corsairs had sacked St. Peter’s in 846, and even occupied part of Apulia for several decades. Second, it expanded the influence of Rome within Christendom itself. A long-brewing conflict between eastern and western divisions of the Church was reaching a head around this time. The Greek Patriarch in Constantinople resented papal claims to primacy over all Christendom, and had theological quibbles of his own with the Latin rite. By investing Robert Guiscard as duke of Sicily, the pope was asserting his power in what had long been Constaninople’s purview.
  • The year was 1038, and the Byzantine Empire was at its height. Over the past century it had systematically broken the strength of several powerful enemies, and expanded their borders by hundreds of miles to recover lost territory. The treasury was full, the frontiers were secure, and the army was strong.
  • The new kingdom was the richest and most advanced state of western Europe. In part, this was because it took full advantage of the talents of its Muslim population, which skilled tradesmen, merchants, and scholars. Whatever the pope’s religious motives behind granting the Normans the right to conquer Muslim Sicily, they cared most of all about power. As such, they happily patronized Arabs, Greeks, and Jews alike.
  • Up until the Norman conquest, the Byzantines had been de facto protectors of all Christians in Sicily. They were the last Christian power to rule the island, and had maintained close contacts with the its Christian population throughout the Muslim occupation, launching several expeditions to liberate their coreligionists. The success of the Normans put an end to this, and allowed the Church of Rome to assume authority over Greek Christians in southern Italy. With Latin Christendom directly abutting Muslim Sicily, the papacy took a new concern for Christians living under Islamic rule. The new holy struggle envisaged not just taking back land from Muslims, but winning over the faithful from the Byzantine rite. This dynamic would play out during the Crusades, as western Europeans conquered once-Byzantine lands from the Muslims.
  • Norman governance concerned itself with taxation, military affairs, and justice, but various peoples were free to maintain separate customs and govern themselves at the communal level.
  • an astonishing amalgamation of wildly different styles: architects ornamented northern Gothic buildings with Arab designs, while Greek artists decorated the interiors with Byzantine mosaics. Nor was this fusion a strictly monumental phenomenon: the Tabula Rogeriana, a world atlas composed by an Arab geographer for Roger II, was produced as a bilingual Arabic-Latin text. The Sicilian court attracted scholars from as far afield as England and Baghdad, who then brought bits of its unique culture back to their homelands. This cultural exchange was much more than an accident of circumstance—the Norman kings took an active interest in the culture of the island, and several learned Arabic, Greek, and Sicilian. As late as 1250, the king of Sicily was fluent in all three languages.
  • One side-effect of the Norman reconquista was the gradual disappearance of Greek culture on the island. Southern Italy and Sicily had long maintained a Greek character, as far back as the first Euboean colonies of the 8th century BC. This had persisted under Roman rule, and was revitalized by later Byzantine reconquests.
  • the Normans expelled the last Byzantine garrison from Apulia in 1071, the same year as the siege of Palermo, and never again would a Greek power rule any part of Italy.
  • Over time, the Roman Church replaced Greek clergymen with Latins, and the Sicilian-speaking majority asserted its cultural power.
  • When the First Crusade was preached in 1095, the duke of Normandy and many other nobles took the cross, inspired by their cousins’ example. Within forty years of the Normans gaining a toehold in Muslim Sicily, Toledo and Jerusalem were back in Christian hands. Christian princes on both sides of the Mediterranean were aggressively expanding their domains, and everywhere Islam was in retreat. The Sicilian Reconquista was a precursor to these titanic clashes—itself not a holy war, but the opening act to the great crusading era.
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    Despite its pro-Byzantine biases, even this account has to concede the reality of cultural synthesis and mutual toleration in Muslim and Norman Sicily
Ed Webb

The Tangled Politics of America's Woke Liberals and Muslim Millennials | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • Across the Western world, it is liberal politicians and activists who back Muslim groups and support Muslim community issues.Indeed, Islamophobia, surveillance, and the securitization of Muslim communities has firmly become an issue of the political left, which sees parallels between the experience of ethnic minorities such as African Americans and Muslim communities. There’s an international aspect to it, of course, as evidenced by the “Muslim ban,” which is why liberals have taken a leading role opposing the Iraq War and supporting the Palestinian cause.
  • The left has historically been opposed to organized religion, believing its conservatism entrenches and justifies inequality and its communalism is a threat to individual liberty.On that basis, one could expect that liberals would oppose religious identity. And indeed, they seem to do so when the groups espousing faith are part of the dominant power structure, or, to say it starkly, when those talking about religion are white men. The faith of brown men and Black women is less of an issue.
  • a hierarchy of liberal values, which sees undoing structural inequality and injustice today as a more vital political task than creating a liberal society tomorrow
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  • For reformers, an ideal society would not necessarily be liberal in the sense Western liberals understand it — such as holding liberal social values, being accepting of abortion and homosexuality, for example — but would instead be politically liberal, meaning it would allow minority faiths to both practice and — and this is the crucial bit — express their religious faith in public. That’s a critical distinction that liberals have yet to grapple with.
  • Western European liberals have forgotten how to grapple with faith, so religion has been comprehensively pushed to the margins of public life
  • the idea of groups coming together, which may have differing views about how a future society should be organized, is the basis of politics itself
  • The broad coalition of ideologies that make up the left today have different conceptions of what an idealized society would look like. Yet they agree on the political task of removing structural inequality and injustice today.
  • While there are certainly questions about this alliance between liberals and faithful Muslims, and some on each side eye each other warily, I don’t share the belief that there is anything unusual or uniquely challenging about this political alliance. For one thing, the rising progressive wing of the liberal movement — the one so often derided as “woke,” as if that were a bad thing — has more in common with Muslim millennials than the previous political generation
  • A rising generation of liberals now looks at social institutions as the problem. They look at the way hierarchies are constructed — in society, at work, even in relationships — and believe the structures themselves are the problem. The same with schools, banks, the police, and so on. The value systems within these structures are the problem, not the people within them who are incentivized to uphold these values.That analysis chimes with a changing Muslim political community, too. For Muslim millennials, integration is not the overarching political ambition that it was for a previous political generation. The current political generation of Muslims in the West applies a structural analysis of what is wrong with the world. This is where the overlap occurs. The two groups look at the structures of power and see clear links between the historical crimes of slavery and colonialism, as well as the hierarchies of race, gender, and faith, and the situations in the West and the Muslim world today.
  • Progressive liberals are upending some of the distinctions long thought to be immovable. As that movement shifts from analyzing hierarchies in society, work, and relationships to hierarchies in politics, some of the questions that were taken for granted will be upended.One of those questions will be about the role of faith in public life, or, to say it more specifically, what exactly counts as the display of faith in public life. As religion shifts from being something about the afterlife to being something about culture in this earthly life, there will be a shift in what counts as the display of faith in public life.
Ed Webb

The White Christian West Isn't What It Thinks It Is - 0 views

  • The West does, of course, face challenges in an age when movements of people happen far more quickly across vast distances than ever before; an age in which the notions of meaning and virtue are more contested; an age where technological advancements and their corresponding impacts on society develop more rapidly. All of that has understandable impacts on how communities and societies think of themselves and conceptualize their common bonds. The question is, how do societies address these challenges and find answers that are likely to heal the rifts that exist rather than exacerbate them on the altar of “saving ourselves,” when the notion of “ourselves” is a wholly mythical construct?
  • When it comes to conceptualizing themselves as a Western “us,” European Christendom has historically done so by positioning itself against the Muslims of the Mediterranean, be they Ottomans or Arabs
  • a form of Christianity that focuses on solidarity with the oppressed, rather than promoting tribalistic hate against the “other,” is precisely what Europe needs more of
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  • is “liberty, equality, solidarity” really what the West stood for in terms of its engagements with minorities at home, and colonized peoples abroad?
  • Islam isn’t a newcomer. A decade ago, I wrote a book titled Muslims of Europe: The ‘Other’ Europeans that included an examination of Islam’s long European history. But one could write an encyclopedia that focused only on the history of Muslim European communities and figures, be they in premodern Spain and Portugal or the Emirate of Sicily or indeed the many Northern and Western Europeans who became Muslims. Framing Islam as a newcomer immediately restricts the scope of discussion that is needed. And such framing leads to a focus on salvaging broken models rather than seeking a new model for the West
  • The fear of Islam is where all of these insecurities come together—a world religion being caricatured to represent all the trials of the world coming upon “us.”
  • the subject of religion always arises when pundits and intellectuals discuss the ostensible faltering of the West
  • As Ryan notes, the sociologist Rogers Brubaker has characterized this stance as “a secularized Christianity as culture. … It’s a matter of belonging rather than believing.” He further describes the attitude as being one in which, “We are Christians precisely because they are Muslims. Otherwise, we are not Christian in any substantive sense.”
Ed Webb

Catholic encounters with Muslims frame 'Fratelli tutti' | National Catholic Reporter - 0 views

  • Personal experiences of Catholic-Muslim dialogue frame and inspire Fratelli Tutti. At the beginning of the document, the pope invokes his own namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who met with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil amid the Crusades. He closes the encyclical with mention of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who lived and died among Muslims in North Africa in the 20th century.
  • his choice to focus on the theme of "human fraternity" was inspired in part by the joint document he wrote and signed with Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the head of Al-Azhar, a well-known Islamic university and mosque in Egypt. During Francis' pontificate, the two men formed a friendship, and one of its fruits was the joint document on the values — informed by their respective faith traditions — that they share. Several times throughout the encyclical, Francis cites their joint declaration and quotes a significant portion of it toward the end. Journalist Claire Giangrave commented that, "You could almost say this is an encyclical written with four hands. This is Pope Francis and the Grand Imam coming together."
  • As a scholar-practitioner of Muslim-Christian dialogue and someone who studies religious pluralism, I was particularly struck by this line in the encyclical, "The Church esteems the ways in which God works in other religions." Francis goes on to quote Nostra Aetate, stating that the church "rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which … often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women."
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  • Francis in Fratelli Tutti wants Catholics to see other religions as positive forces in the world, which help to achieve God's purpose of universal human fraternity.
  • Francis included a Muslim scholar, Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, as a speaker in the event to mark the encyclical's release. This is the first time a Muslim has presented on behalf of a papal encyclical, speaking among Catholic prelates and from the chairs typically occupied by cardinals in the synod hall
  • Francis concludes the encyclical with two prayers. One uses Trinitarian language and is meant for Christian communities and ecumenical contexts. The other is a "Prayer to the Creator," which uses language that people of other religions — including Muslims and Jews — may feel comfortable with and could be used in some interfaith settings
Ed Webb

Sonic controversy: "Hinduistic music" in Pakistan - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • hostility toward Sufi music is increasingly visible across denominational lines in Pakistan’s religious discourse
  • Spiritual music has long been a vital element of Islam in the region comprising areas of Pakistan and North India. What explains the growing antagonism toward mystical sound art in a country that has inherited a rich legacy of devotional music?
  • shifting assumptions about “authentic Islam” have catalyzed the scandalization of mystical music in Pakistan. The emergence of Arabization, with its emphasis on rediscovering true Islam in Arab culture, has vilified local sonic genres in the Islamic republic.
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  • liturgical music has been a site of audacious spiritual experimentation in prominent Persian and South Asian Sufi traditions since the medieval era
  • For al-Ghazali, music was a divine blessing because it could elicit preconscious and automatic emotional reactions. Sound was felt before it was thought. Thus, melody was a secret potion for mystics because it facilitated intense intimacy with God in a manner that minimized ritualistic mediation. Al-Ghazali was one among many crucial figures whose groundbreaking mystical theorization of sound reverberated and precipitated liturgical creativity in transcultural Sufi orders
  • a growing faction of scholars who insist on banning qawwali
  • Casual observers might assume that the polemic against qawwali is a symptom of rising “Talibanization,” when in fact, even pro-Sufi scholars participate in this discourse.
  • Zia believed that divesting Pakistan’s Islam from Persian, Indian and all non-Arab layers would usher a new golden era in Muslim history
  • determining a musical instrument’s moral status requires deciphering its cultural identity
  • Although these instruments have a complicated cross-cultural history, most ulema associate them with different musical streams: they consider the daff a part of an “Arabian musical system,” while the tabla, they explain, comes from the Hindustani (North Indian classical music) tradition
  • the Hindustani system is a product of Hindu-Muslim musical syncretism. It is a blend of Persian, Arab, and Indian musical elements, and has been prevalent in the northern parts of the subcontinent since the thirteenth century CE. So why does this legacy of religious and musical synthesis pose a pressing problem for ulema today?
  • During the 1980s, the state framed an ideological narrative by partly disassociating Pakistan from some of its inherited traditions, including Hindustani music
  • President Zia ul-Haq emphasized that Pakistan must emulate “authentic (Arab) Islamic culture” and cast “Hindu influences” aside
  • I listened to some of these mystically inclined scholars dwell on qawwali’s feminizing effects. Muscular manhood, they pointed out, consists of physical robustness, extraordinary bravery, and superior tactical acumen. Far from nurturing these traits, however, qawwali promotes soft emotions. The sound of the tabla, a pair of hand drums used in qawwali, was said to “breed soft men” who are “gentle, submissive, and vulnerable.” The pervasive use of the tabla, they concluded, poses a grave threat to Muslim masculinity
  • To paraphrase one Pakistani Television (PTV) executive, President Zia-ul-Haq did not wish to merely police Pakistan’s music; he wished to recreate it. To that end, his regime patronized Arab vocal and instrumental arts in the country
  • the authorities regulated the music market and selectively censored sonic material on state-owned radio and television
  • Zia’s regime incited widespread religious hatred against such “Hinduistic” sonic art.
  • popular preachers laud the “great deeds of the pious men of the 1980s” who raised their voice (and sometimes their hands) against “paganistic musical ceremonies” in the “land of the pure.”
  • This story of “Hinduistic” melodies reveals unexpected connections that challenge us to broaden our analysis of religion’s sonic dimensions. It exposes how complex debates about bodies, emotions, masculinity, and national religious identity have shaped notions of cultural purity in Pakistan.
  • the state has not banned music but done something more consequential: it has sought to transform Pakistan’s soundscape
Ed Webb

French lawmakers propose Muslim Brotherhood ban, measures to 'combat radical Islam' | A... - 0 views

  • French lawmakers have proposed banning clerics affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood from preaching, as part of 44 propositions set out counter “Islamist” radicalization in the country, according to a government document
  • stricter laws for cultural associations, schools, and funds sent to organizations – particularly from abroad
  • The senators urged for the creation of a database of home-schooled students and students in non-contract schools to verify the training of their teachers. Non-contract schools – or a school that doesn’t have a contract with the government – are free to set their own curriculums.
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  • “Radical Islamism is polymorphic, and it is found in all aspects of social life and tends to put in place a new social norm that is more prevalent than individually liberty,” Le Figaro reported the document as saying.
  • “France, that is not an assembly of minorities, but rather is one nation, cannot have a doctrine of reasonable accommodation,”
Ed Webb

The White Christian West Isn't What It Thinks It Is - 0 views

  • Throughout what is commonly known as the West, there has been a slew of books, articles, and public interventions calling attention to the notion of a cultural crisis within. Such a phenomenon ought to be followed by self-reflection, self-interrogation, and retrospection. By and large, however, the past decade has seen far more of the opposite: The alarm surrounding crisis has been more of a call for “us” to attack and problematize “them,” which invariably leads to propositions such as “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board,” as Douglas Murray, a hardcore right-wing pundit, once argued—not to mention conspiracy theories that blame all the ills of the modern world on those who look different than “us,” meaning white Europeans, or, worse, pray differently than “we” do.
  • Ryan identifies the West as an intellectual space, rather than solely a geographical one. His model of what the West entails has three pillars: “the belief in a moral endpoint; the trio of republican values (liberty, equality, solidarity); and universalism.” Ryan correctly points out that all of these pillars are in crisis—and yet, the situation is, he argues, “not entirely hopeless.”
  • When it comes to conceptualizing themselves as a Western “us,” European Christendom has historically done so by positioning itself against the Muslims of the Mediterranean, be they Ottomans or Arabs
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  • a project that institutions such as the British Council have tried to bring to fruition, through enterprises like “Our Shared Europe” and “Our Shared Future,” which sought to uncover the huge amount of historical evidence that showed that Muslims and Islam played much wider historical roles internally in the West than was hitherto understood.
  • a form of Christianity that focuses on solidarity with the oppressed, rather than promoting tribalistic hate against the “other,” is precisely what Europe needs more of
  • If the West is to look for a better future, intellectuals ought to be transcending untenable readings of their history and looking for better ideas.
  • one could write an encyclopedia that focused only on the history of Muslim European communities and figures, be they in premodern Spain and Portugal or the Emirate of Sicily or indeed the many Northern and Western Europeans who became Muslims. Framing Islam as a newcomer immediately restricts the scope of discussion that is needed. And such framing leads to a focus on salvaging broken models rather than seeking a new model for the West.
  • Righting that wrong means not simply reimagining a new national myth to gather around, but Westerners forging a new narrative that dispenses with the historical marginalization of “them” in favor of creating what has always been a mythical “us.” What is needed is a new notion of “us” that emerges strongly and true, based on values and principles that the peoples of the West will be able to rally around in a cohesive manner for generations to come.
Ed Webb

Berks County doctors drawing strength from Ramadan to fight coronavirus | Berks and Bey... - 0 views

  • To comply with social distancing policies, spiritual leaders at the Islamic Center of Reading have closed the mosque and canceled the traditional Ramadan gathering.Beyond the spiritual aspect, Zaman said not being able to gather is a loss to the 40 or 50 physicians who worship at the Islamic Center.It was a time to meet with other physicians and discuss how they are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
  • One of the most spiritual aspects of Ramadan is the Taraweeh, a ritual prayer performed at the conclusion of the daily after sunset gathering. Each night, the imam reads a portion of the Quran, which had 30 parts.The long passages, which can take an hour to read, are a time of deep spiritual reflection.“Praying in community is much different than praying alone,” Elmarzouky said. “There’s more energy, more spirituality, more incentive when you pray together.”
  • Muslims from about 40 countries worship at the Islamic Center mosque in Reading
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  • In the holy month of Ramadan, Shah will seek to replenish his spiritual reservoir in confronting an unprecedented medical and personal challenge.Fasting and prayer, Muslims believe, strengthens self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy.
Ed Webb

Europe Is Getting Tough on Political Islam - 0 views

  • Europeans are concerned about the growing sway of Islamist groups that seek to push members of local Muslim communities to detach from mainstream society—mostly through preaching but also through various forms of social pressure, intimidation and, occasionally, violence— and resort to alternative legal, educational, and social systems
  • For obvious reasons, terrorist attacks get all the attention from policymakers, security services, and the media. The activities of nonviolent Islamists, on the other hand, tend to be ignored: They are mostly legal, rarely flare up in dramatic incidents, and often bring (sometimes justified, sometimes not) charges of racism and Islamophobia to those who highlight them.
  • These concerns are not new, but what is noteworthy is that they are no longer expressed almost exclusively by those on the right of the political spectrum but, much more frequently than in the past, by politicians and commentators of all political persuasions—not to mention security services.
Ed Webb

Why Muslim-majority countries need secular citizenship and law-making | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • once a political system is based on a religion, it is almost impossible to define the citizens who do not follow that religion as “first class.” In Iran and Iraq, rising legal and political influence of Shiism has led the discrimination against Sunni citizens, and in Pakistan and Egypt the opposite has happened, to a certain extent. Moreover, several Christian and non-Muslim minorities have faced discrimination by various means, including apostasy and blasphemy laws, in Sudan and Malaysia, among other cases.
  • Truly maintaining equal citizenship to all regardless of their religious identities is crucial for Muslim-majority countries to achieve democratization, consolidate the rule of law, and end sectarian and religious tensions.
  • equal citizenship in Muslim-majority countries will empower those who defend rights of Muslim minorities facing persecution and even ethnic cleansing in such cases as China, India, and Myanmar, and experiencing Islamophobia in western countries. By maintaining the rights of their own minorities, Muslim-majority countries may gain stronger moral and legal grounds to defend rights of Muslim minorities at the global level.
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  • Islamic jurisprudence inherently contradicts democratic politics
  • In the twentieth century, secularist rulers adopted secular legal systems in Turkey, Iraq, Tunisia, and several other Muslim-majority cases. These assertive secularist regimes were mostly authoritarian. Therefore, they did not allow the law-making processes to be truly participatory. Secularism appears to be necessary but not sufficient for participatory legislation, too.
  • As my new book Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison explains, there existed a certain level of separation between religious and political authorities in the first four centuries of Islamic history.That is why the first systematic book about “Islamic” politics was written as late as the mid-eleventh century. It was Mawardi’s The Ordinances of Government. The book argues that an Islamic government is based on a caliph (an Arab man from the Quraish tribe) to rule all Muslims. The caliph holds the entire political and legal authority and stays in power for life. The caliph delegates his legitimate authority to sultans, governors, and judges.The second book, which systematically defines an Islamic political system, was written in the early fourteenth century. It is Ibn Taymiyya’s Sharia-based Governance in Reforming Both the Ruler and His Flock. Instead of the one-man rule of a caliph, this book emphasizes the alliance between the ulema and the state authorities. Ibn Taymiyya interprets the only phrase in the Quran about authority, “uli’l-amr” (4:59), as referring to the ulema and the rulers (though other scholars have interpreted it differently).
  • To implement Mawardi’s idea of caliphate today would imply to establish an extreme autocracy. Ibn Taymiyya’s ideas are not helpful to solve modern political problems either. In fact, the ulema-state alliance is the source of various problems in many Muslim-majority countries.
  • To maintain a certain level of separation between Islam and legal systems may limit the exploitation of Islam for political purposes.
  • recent Islamization (at the political, legal and ideological levels) has weakened secular fundamentals of citizenship and law-making in many Muslim-majority countries.
Ed Webb

Rethinking secularism : Can Europe integrate its Muslims? | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • In Western Europe, right into the 1990s, and in contrast to India and some Muslim-majority countries for instance, there was a sense across the political spectrum that political secularism was a done deal.
  • By multiculturalism I mean not just the fact of the post-immigration ethno-religious diversity but the presence of a multiculturalist approach to this diversity: the idea that equality must be extended from uniformity of treatment to include respect for difference. This means understanding that the public and the private are interdependent rather than dichotomized as in classical liberalism. This provides the intellectual basis for the public recognition and institutional accommodation of minorities, the reversal of marginalisation and a remaking of national citizenship so that all can have a sense of belonging to it.
  • Liberal political theorists define political secularism as ‘state neutrality’, meaning that the state must not privilege some religions over others but must instead treat them equally and must not identify with any one of them. Multiculturalists contend that a strict policy of non-identification with a particular language, history and culture, however, is impossible for a state to achieve. It is therefore better to interpret state neutrality to mean that connections between state and religion must be inclusive, rather than push religious groups away.
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  • Western Europe may respond, indeed is responding, to Muslim political assertiveness in two opposing ways, based on its response to two controversies that erupted in 1989: the Salman Rushdie affair in the United Kingdom and the headscarf affair in France.
  • too many European governments discourage Muslim self-representation in politics and civil society and prefer to initiate debates about Islam’s relationship to national identity in which Muslims are the objects of discussion rather than participants in it
  • Western Europe will not be able to integrate its growing population of Muslims into its national polities without rethinking political secularism. This will be much easier where moderate secularism and multiculturalism prevail, as opposed to a more radical form of secularism. European nations must oppose radical secularism, antipathy to public religion, and the trampling and alienating effects this tendency is having on religious freedoms and a growing European Muslim population.
  • Just as European citizens and governments must oppose the extreme nationalism that is asserting itself across the continent, they must also turn away from extreme secularism which, apart from in France, is not the Western European way. Affirming its historically moderate secularism, and adapting it to accommodate a multifaith national citizenry, represents Europe’s best chance for finding a way forward.
Ed Webb

Trapped in Iran | 1843 - 0 views

  • Iran has a complicated, and at times paranoid, government. Elected parliamentarians give a veneer of democracy but power ultimately resides with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s most powerful security force, answers directly to him. Rival arms of the state, including the security forces, jostle for influence. And the rules are unclear.
  • I had gone to report on the impact of American-imposed sanctions. Some news stories were claiming that Tehran was on the brink of collapse, but I saw few signs of it. There was no panic buying. The city looked cleaner and more modern than on my visit three years before. It has the best underground in the Middle East, with locally made trains. Parks and museums were abundant and well-tended, pavements were scrubbed and the city’s many flower-beds immaculately maintained.
  • America’s sanctions had hurt people, of course. Average monthly salaries were worth less than a pair of imported shoes. I saw people sleeping rough or hawking junk on the streets. One former university lecturer I met had been reduced to busking. But few people went hungry and there seemed to be a joie de vivre among many of those I talked to. Cafés, theatres and music halls were packed. An earlier bout of sanctions had forced Tehran’s Symphony Orchestra to disband but I wangled a ticket for the opening night of the reconstituted Philharmonic.
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  • My captors wore no identifying uniforms, but on the second day the doctor told me that he was an officer in the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s security agencies are many tentacled. In 1979 the new Islamic Republic retained much of the existing state apparatus, including the army and a good part of the bureaucracy, but it added another tier to keep existing institutions in check, and the parallel systems have competed ever since. The government’s own intelligence ministry would be unlikely to detain a Western journalist whose entry it had approved. My accusers were from its more powerful rival.
  • Over the course of four days the men spent most of their time glued to phone-screens, watching Bollywood films, or American or Chinese schlock full of street fights, which they accessed through virtual private networks to evade the censorship they were supposed to enforce.
  • Self-censorship ranks as one of an authoritarian regime’s strongest tools, and I was complicit.
  • Despite Iran’s pious reputation, Tehran may well be the least religious capital in the Middle East. Clerics dominate the news headlines and play the communal elders in soap operas, but I never saw them on the street, except on billboards. Unlike most Muslim countries, the call to prayer is almost inaudible. There has been a rampant campaign to build new mosques, yet more people flock to art galleries on Fridays than religious services. With the exception, perhaps, of Tel Aviv, I had visited nowhere in the Middle East where people read as voraciously as Tehran. “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fable of women enslaved to a theocratic caste, is a particular favourite, the owner of one bookstore told me.
  • Life in Iran has always swung both ways. Nothing goes and everything goes. Alcohol is banned but home delivery is faster for wine than for pizza.
  • The space for veil-free living had grown since I last visited. In the safety of their homes, women often removed their head coverings when chatting over the internet. Darkened cinema halls offered respite from the morality police who enforce discipline. In cafés women let their scarves fall languorously. The more brazen simply walked uncovered in the streets, risking imprisonment. And, in an unusual inversion of rebellion, ties have made a reappearance some 40 years after Ayatollah Khomeini denounced them as a symbol of British imperialism.
  • The listing of plays in Tehran was almost as long as London’s West End and I devoured them. Directors are adept at finding ways to evade the censors. A striking number of plays and films I saw were set in prisons – a commentary on the Iranian condition – but under bygone regimes. Opera was taboo, but a performance one evening in the red-cushioned opera house of the former shah, which was billed as Kurdish folk music, included Verdi. Beneath a vast glittering chandelier the audience threw bouquets of flowers at the Iranian singer, who is acclaimed in both Rome and Berlin; for an encore, she finally dared to sing a solo.
  • Of course not everyone got away with pushing at the strictures. In my first week in Tehran the authorities pulled a production of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” – the play is about suicide, which is forbidden in Islam – and another about poor women reduced to hawking to feed their families. Cafés that hosted live bands risked closure until they had paid off fines. Women without head-coverings who were spotted on one of Tehran’s many surveillance cameras received police summons by text. But the morality police, who drove around town in new green-and-white vans, seemed too stretched to suppress every challenge.
  • as well as being an intelligence officer, he was an academic and wrote a newspaper column
  • It was liberating to have the run of Tehran, without minders, deadlines or chores. But of course, I wasn’t truly free. I policed myself on behalf of the regime, becoming my own jailer and censor, aware that any lapse could have consequences. Sometimes I tried to speak over colleagues or relatives who were saying things that I feared might enrage my captors. I felt the presence of hundreds of electronic eyes. The friendliest faces who greeted me might be informers. And I could not leave Iran. It is an odd experience to know that you can be caught out at any time. But this was the way of Tehran. Some avenues open up, others close. Everyone feels like a captive. There are those who say that it is all a grand plan of the ayatollahs to keep people on edge.
  • I was caught in a political game involving high-seas tankers and international diplomacy that far exceeded my ability to influence it.
  • I feared either that the Revolutionary Guards thought they could use my presence to negotiate some kind of deal, or that I was becoming a pawn in the internal rivalry within the Iranian government. I was beginning to see at first hand the glaring tensions between the two arms of the state. My hotel seemed increasingly nervous about hosting an over-stayer without a passport. In an attempt to evict me one evening, they cut the lights and blamed an unfixable electrical fault. The following morning the Guards arrived to transfer me to another location. En route we were chased by two motorbikes and careened up and down the alleyways of northern Tehran. Only when we pulled into a cul-de-sac did the Guards succeed in shaking them off.
  • A new interrogator – toad-like and clad in leather – told me that the Guards had found incriminating material on my laptop that touched on matters of national security: he had found a note from a conversation I’d had with a government flunkie about smuggling rings connected to the offspring of senior Iranian officials. This proved, he said, that I had crossed the line from journalism to espionage. They were reopening the case.
  • Notes he had discovered on Iran’s spiralling brain drain confirmed, to his mind, that I was seeking to undermine national morale.
  • I wasn’t even sure how genuinely religious many of those I had met were. When we drove about town, Ali talked of his student days, his young family and his passion for British football. Ideology rarely came up. Within the parameters set by the vice squads, Tehran’s dominant culture was defiantly secular. Iran called itself a theocracy, yet religion felt frustratingly hard to locate and the truly religious seemed sidelined, like a minority.
  • For ten nights in Muharram these passion plays were performed with growing fervour. Even an irreverent man who taught me Farsi, who devoted much of his spare time to picking up waitresses in cafés, said Muharram was the one religious occasion he observed. The streets were lined with mokebs, stalls offering tea and dates and decorated with tragic representations of the battlefield using decapitated toy soldiers. At one mokeb, I came across a camel being readied for sacrifice. Many of these rites drew on ancient folklore rather than Muslim practice, akin to the celebration of Easter in the West. Since its inception the clerical regime had sought – and failed – to purify Iran of its non-Islamic elements.
  • “You feel a direct connection between people and God here,” a 40-year-old programme manager told me. He had stopped going to government mosques altogether, he said. Like some other pious Iranians I met, he feared that politics had sullied their religion rather than elevating it.
  • Panahian preached from a cushioned, teak throne beneath a vast chandelier while his acolytes crowded around him on the floor. He projected so much power, I got the feeling that if he’d read from a phone directory his disciples would still have sobbed. “Are you a servant of God or of man?” he said, scanning the crowd for suspects. “Choose between the tyranny of westernisation and God.” After he’d left a woman in a black chador took me aside. I steeled myself for an ideological harangue. Instead, she held up a plastic bag of bread and a plastic container of beans that the Husseiniya distributed after the sermon. “That’s why we came,” she said. “If you ask about the contents of the sermon, no one can tell you. If you ask about the contents of breakfast, they’ll all remember.”
  • the largest and most vibrant Jewish community in the Muslim world. Since the ayatollahs toppled the shah, Iran’s Jewish population has shrunk from 80,000 to around a tenth of that number. The ayatollahs have largely kept the remaining Jews safe, but they have also confiscated some of their property, particularly that of those who have left the country. Tensions between Iran’s Jews and the regime ebb and rise depending on the country’s relationship with Israel. But over time the Islamic Republic seems to have grown more at ease with the community
  • Iran has 22 mikva’ot – pools for ritual immersion. Many of Tehran’s dozen active synagogues are vast and packed with worshippers
  • There was a Jewish café, two kosher restaurants and a maternity hospital funded by the Jewish community in the south of Tehran, where less than 5% of those born were Jewish. A Jewish sports centre was also under construction
  • By rare coincidence the first service of selichot, the penitential prayers recited for a month in the run up to the High Holidays, began on the first day of the solemn month of Muharram. The synagogues were packed. At 1am Iran’s largest synagogue still teemed with families. At 2am the congregation swayed in prayer for Israel and its people. The communal chest-beating was gentler than in the Husseiniya, but more ardent than in Western congregations. Women walked up to the ark and kissed the smooth Isfahani tiles painted with menorahs and stars of David, acting like Shia pilgrims at their shrines. People milled around on the street outside chatting. I must have recited my prayers for forgiveness with conviction.
  • two men in black entered and introduced themselves as officers from another branch of intelligence. They apologised profusely for the difficulties I had faced and blamed the Guards for the inconvenience. They hoped that I had been well treated and expressed outrage that the Guards had made me pay my own hotel bill. They assured me that they’d been working strenuously for weeks to fix matters. My ordeal was over, they said. But could they just ask a few questions first?After 40 minutes of interrogation, they disappeared. Ten minutes later they were back with embarrassed smiles. One awkward matter needed resolving. Because I had overstayed my visa, I needed to pay a fine of 4m toman, about  $200.“Of course, the Guards should be paying since the delay was of their making,” they said.I called Ali and asked him to clear the fine.“No way,” he replied. “Can’t they waive it?”The intelligence officers apologised again but remained insistent. There were regulations. They couldn’t foot the bill for a mistake of the Guards.
  • Only when the flight map on my seat-back screen showed the plane nosing out of Iranian airspace did I begin to breathe normally.
Ed Webb

The Muslim World's Nightmare Decade - 0 views

  • Throughout the Arab world, and in the Muslim world beyond it, the 21st century — and particularly its second decade — will be remembered for the litany of catastrophes that devastated entire nations and struck at the very idea of the moral arc of the universe.
  • The emergence of ISIS and the horrors it wrought will likely spell the end of ideologically driven political Islamist movements in the Middle East, much like the crushing defeats of the 1967 war undermined pan-Arab nationalism.
  • A nine-year civil war in Syria with half a million dead undermined every international norm in warfare, from the targeted bombing of hospitals to the use of chemical weapons. It fueled the largest mass migration since World War II, and the rising tide of right-wing populism across the globe, whose uniting force is anti-Muslim hatred.
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  • the world’s two most populous countries launched sweeping projects to question the legitimacy of hundreds of millions of Muslim citizens and break their spirits
  • while western powers and foreign influences played an important role in setting the stage for conflict, the worst excesses of our tyrants, be they presidents and kings or preachers and evangelists, are products of our own societies. The invasion of Iraq created an environment where ISIS could flourish, but its chieftains and ideologues are very much our own. So there is hope for change from within.
  • The desire to resurrect a past of fundamental purity may have reached its most violent and deranged form in places around the globe where this Saudi influence was strongest, but it’s not unique to the Muslim world. Across the West, right-wing xenophobes preach anti-immigrant nationalism centered on reclaiming a mythical original social purity. Salafism is a similar reaction to an increasingly complex, depressing modern reality filled with defeat, oppression, lack of agency and disruptive, imported social trends. It harkens to a simpler, mythological time, one in which heroism is possible and dignity is a straightforward choice, where the right thing to do is as clear as a white thread against the night sky.
  • like every imagined utopia, this one wasn’t real and never will be
  • A new era for the Muslim world would deemphasize the purist obsession with minutiae and rituals, and emphasize the overarching moral codes of egalitarianism and compassion that are at the core of Islamic teaching. It would embrace the critical thinking that was key to the Islamic Golden Age, which kept the flame of progress alive in the Medieval era.
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