A chapter in Middle East politics

There is now a ceasefire of sorts in place between Hamas and Israel but what has actually been achieved by either antagonist. Israel has destroyed approx 1500 sites in Gaza but the residents of Sderot or Ashkelon contend Hamas will resume its rocket fire in a few months. The residents are sceptical because Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09 was supposed to have destroyed the ‘terror infrastructure’. Hamas has fired as many rockets into Israel, only this time they’ve managed to reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel’s Iron Dome missile shield intercepted 90% of the projectiles that could’ve landed on built-up areas; it may just be that Iran was probing the defence system for weakness. Hamas has claimed victory having survived the ‘precision bombing’ onslaught and has emerged politically stronger in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The Arab Spring has brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt; President Morsi attended the NAM meeting in Tehran where he called for reforms in Syria. In the Arab League conference held in Cairo, Morsi upped the ante when he called for a change of government – he then tempered this by stating that Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt would meet to find a solution to the crisis in Syria. During the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, President Morsi put Hamas under pressure to accept a truce in order to prevent the calamity that would result from an escalation of the violence. His statesmanship has elevated the Muslim Brotherhood to a position of a credible alternative to unelected regimes in neighbouring Arab states i.e. Syria and Jordan.

Khaled Meshaal may have abandoned his long time base in Damascus but was all praise for Iran during a press conference in Cairo held after the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Other pro-Syrian factions like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP-GC) remain in Syria and who only recently met with Iran’s influential parliament speaker Ali Larijani. Khaled Meshaal’s move to Egypt – now under a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, perhaps presages a reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah which may lead to elections in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In the interim, President Morsi may even succeed in getting Hamas to recognise the State of Israel along some approximation of the 1967 borders.

Israel enjoys good relations with King Abdullah II of Jordan but recent fuel price hikes have resulted in nationwide protests calling for change in the Kingdom. Budgetary constraints and the changing political landscape may force the King to reform on the lines of King Mohamed VI of Morocco. Islamist parties including the Muslim Brotherhood could dominate the newly elected parliament; the momentum for change could very easily undermine the monarchy. A resolution of the Syrian civil war is going to be far more problematic given the sectarian and ethnic divide of the country. A stalemate in the civil war will prolong Iran’s stranglehold on the Syrian political scene; a resolution of it could bring to the fore another Islamist and/or Muslim Brotherhood government.

Israel is an extremely stable country and has the military prowess that is the envy of its many bungling neighbours. However, the demographics of the Arab population and the changing political reality create facts on the ground that speak of another truth. When Israel recognizes as a matter of conscience that its security interests lie in affording dignity to the Palestinians in the occupied territories, will true peace in the Middle East come to fruition. Israel could then partner with the Palestinians who are predominantly secular, to protect their joint interests in the region. Palestinians in Jordan constitute more than half the population and are supportive of the current monarch King Abdullah II; his wife Queen Rania was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents. A garnering of the secular forces in Jordan would drive a wedge in the Islamist/Muslim Brotherhood ambition to dominate the political arena in the region.

Land of Canaan

There are some verses that I have come across in the Quran that I believe give credence to the return of the ‘Children of Israel’ to the ‘Land of Canaan’:

‘And We bequeathed to the people deemed weak the eastern parts of the land and its western parts wherein We gave blessings; and fulfilled was the fair word of your Lord on the Children of Israel for what they bore with patience.’ (7:137)
‘And We said thereafter to the Children of Israel: “Dwell in the land; then when there will come the promise of the Hereafter, We shall bring you altogether as a multitude.’ (17:104)
‘And of the People of the Book none will there be but will believe in him [Jesus] before his death; and on the Day of Resurrection he will be against them a witness’ (4:159)

It is evident from these verses that the return of the ‘Children of Israel’ to the ‘Land of Canaan’ is a precondition to the onset of a chain of preordained events that will eventually culminate in the Day of Resurrection. Shouldn’t we Muslims be discussing the implication of these and other verses in the Quran, germane to a better understanding of what is transpiring in the Middle East.

Some Muslim scholars have said to me that because the ‘Children of Israel’ broke their many covenants with God; they were eventually expelled from the Holy Land:

‘And We decreed to the Children of Israel in the Book [Torah]: You shall make mischief in the land twice and shall become tyrants and extremely arrogant’ ‘When the first of the two promises came to pass, We send against you servants of Ours possessing severe prowess; penetrating into your habitations’ ‘Then in turn, We made you prevail over them and reinforced you with wealth and children’ ‘When the second promise came to pass, it was for them to humiliate you and enter the mosque; destroy all that you held in esteem’ ‘Maybe your Lord will have mercy on you but if you regress, We will revert’ (17:4-8)

It is my understanding that these invasions refer to the conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 740 BCE and to the conquest of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians in 600 BCE. It is assumed that the ten tribes of the Kingdom of Israel were taken captive and transported to distant provinces of the Assyrian empire where they disappeared completely. The Babylonians, however, forcibly exiled their captives to Babylon; although Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, other parts of Judah continued to be inhabited by Israelites during the period of the exile. The invasion and occupation by pagan armies of the Holy Land was a transitory sanction by God on the Israelites for their disobedience and transgressions. In 540 BCE the conquest of Mesopotamia and the Middle East by the Persians paved the way for the return of the exiles to the province of Judah.

Let us remind ourselves that it was Moses who led the Israelites out of the clutches of Pharaoh and to the Promised Land:

‘O my people! Enter the Holy Land which Allah bequeathed to you and turn not back’ (5:21)

God drowned Pharaoh and destroyed all that he and his people had built in order to alleviate any lingering anxieties that the Israelites may have harboured of a reversal of fortune. He even authorised the Israelites to destroy the heathen occupants of the Land of Canaan and claim what was rightfully theirs to inhabit and for posterity.

What gives further impetus to the notion that the Israelites have a legitimate claim to the Land of Canaan is that God instructed Abraham to move and resettle his second wife Hagar and their son Ishmael to the vale of bakkah:

‘Our Lord, I have settled some of my offspring in a vale without cultivation near Your Sacred House’ (14:37)

Abraham wasn’t asked to relocate Hagar and Ishmael to another part of the Land of Canaan but to resettle them in a distant land; a land of the Bedouin tribes. With the passage of time Ishmael became a nation; his descendants now claim the Arabian peninsular to be their ancestral home. Abraham’s first wife Sarah and their son Isaac continued to reside in the Land of Canaan; it is to this ancestral home that the descendants of Isaac have always returned from repeated exiles in order to reaffirm their covenants and to seek refuge as a nation.

It is time we Muslims studied the Noble Quran and reflected upon its teachings so as not to rely entirely on what our ‘Mullahs’ preach to us.

The Torah: ‘A light and guidance……’

The determinate characteristics that are imperative in designating any compilation of revelations from God as Al Kitab or The Book are stipulated in the Quran itself:

‘This is the Book, there is nothing dubious in it’ (2:2). ‘We have neglected nothing in the Book’ (6:38). ‘And it is He Who has sent down to you the Book, explained in detail’ (6:114). ‘If it was not from Allah they would have found in it many a contradiction’ (4:82). ‘None can change His words’ (18:27). ‘And surely, We will guard it’ (15:9).

However, it is not just the Quran but also the Torah that God refers to as Al Kitab or The Book:

‘Say [Muhammad]: Who then sent down the Book which Moses brought, a light and guidance to mankind’ (6:91). ‘And indeed, We gave Moses the Book’ (2:87).

Therefore, the aforestated determinate characteristics that are imperative must be applicable to the Torah as well.

The prejudice amongst Muslims is that the Torah has been ‘corrupted’, and in order to substantiate this notion they will direct you to the pertinent verses in the Quran:

‘They pervert the usage of the words; have forgotten a portion of that which they were reminded’ (5:13). ‘But they altered what had been said to them; those who had transgressed’ (7:162).

Undoubtedly, there were concerted attempts at interpolating the Torah just as there were attempts at interpolating the Quran:

‘They want to alter Allah’s Words’ (48:15).

Notwithstanding, these were all just futile attempts and no more; how do we know that this was the case as a matter of fact:

‘How can they make you [Muhammad] judge while there is with them the Torah wherein is the decree of Allah’ ‘Indeed, We sent down the Torah wherein is guidance and light. By it they gave judgement, the Prophets who surrendered [to Allah], for those who were Jews’ (5:43-44)

It would be absurd to believe that successive Prophets adjudicated over the affairs of their community (Banu Yisrael) using a ‘corrupted’ Torah.

In fact, at the time of the revelation of the Quran Prophet Muhammad was instructed as follows:

‘So if you are in doubt about what We have sent down to you then ask those who recite the Book of earlier time’ (10:94).

The Quran clearly indicates that Muslims and Banu Yisrael are of the ‘Religion of Abraham’, and makes it an article of faith for the Muslims that they believe in the Torah:

‘We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you; our God and your God is One’ (29:46)

All I ask of my fellow Muslims is to understand and appreciate the diversity in all of creation. This diversity is also reflected in our thought processes and is evidenced in all that we do. We must endeavour to lead by example and not by compulsion in all aspects of our lives. Who are we to reserve judgement on our fellow human beings; arrogate to ourselves that which the Quran does not sanction:

‘For each of you [Jews, Christians and Muslims] We have prescribed a law and a clear way. If Allah had willed, He would have made you one nation; but that He may test in what He has given you – so compete with one another in good deeds’ (5:48)

Facets of Radicalisation

I agree that there is radicalisation amongst some in the Muslim communities in the UK and overseas. However, there are many facets to the emergence of this radicalisation. The crux of the matter is the inability of Muslims to reconcile modernity with their interpretation of Islam and an acute absence of credible role models.

The schisms appeared in the Muslim ‘Ummah’ soon after the death of Prophet Muhammad as evidenced by the arguments between the ‘Companions’ and those from outside the Hejaz region of Arabia. Ever since the death of the last ‘Righteous Caliph’ – Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, Muslims have been plagued by non-representative governments using the enlightened example of Prophet Muhammad to hide their corruption.

Colonisation of Muslim lands further exacerbated their plight as the new paymasters imposed compliant regimes; autocratic governments that provided stability by virtue of the doctrine of brutal suppression. Nepotism and cronyism became the cornerstone of government policy for advancement; the nation’s wealth was systematically siphoned off to distant lands.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are two sides of the same coin; police states masquerading as theocracies. Wahabi Saudi Arabia and Shia’ Iran are using their immense oil wealth to wage a proxy war. Mullahs in Iran and Salafists in Saudi Arabia are attempting to channel the frustration of Muslim masses into a focused hatred of the West. The Mullahs consider the US presence in the Middle East as an existential threat and the Salafists consider US attempts to democratise the region as unislamic.

These self-appointed clerics are the hypocrites in our communities that espouse violence in the name of a faith that highly values peace and considers human life sacrosanct. The ‘Arab Spring’ may deny the Salafists emotional support but will not dent the stream of petro-dollars that come primarily from the Gulf Co-operation Council countries.

We Muslims in the UK must vigorously denounce the subterfuge activities of such obscurantist fringe groups that by default claim to represent our interests. These radicals may even label us ‘Kafir’ but let me say this: There is far more Islam in the institutions here in the UK than there is in most Muslim countries.

Regimes & Radicals

Expedience dictates that we turn a blind eye to the corruption that plagues governments that we consider are allied to our fight against terrorism. These governments often brutalise their own peoples and the resultant impetuosity provides the backdrop for radicalisation. Resentment of these governments is channelled by the radicals into a focused hatred of all that is perceived to be Western. These governments have a vested interest in instigating the radicals to rampage; compel Western governments to provide financial/material support.

Observation informs that in such countries there is a very fine line between the intelligence agencies and the radical groups. There is a seamless flow of personnel to and fro on the pretense of infiltration and the acquisition of intelligence. They collude in order to perpetuate a heightened state of anxiety and fear in the local population through innuendo and murder. The impact of this spurious war is felt on the streets of Western countries through the subterfuge activities of obscurantist fringe groups that claim to represent Muslim opinion.

Governments of these countries predicate their legitimacy on the premise of apprehending said radicals and maintaining regional stability. However, these very governments are acutely reticent to introduce the requisite political and economic reforms. They would have Western governments believe that their despotic regimes are indispensable to Western national security interests in the region. It is, in fact, an insidious endeavour at creating an alignment of interests with Western governments; the perception of a common thematic enemy.

Are we going to entrust our security in the West to governments that are extremely unpopular and endemically corrupt? Regimes whose sole ambition is to preserve their grip on power and who are willing to achieve this through patronage and/or coercion. Regimes that do little to improve the welfare of their own peoples and would sell them out at the drop of a dime: How long before they sell us out?

Afghanistan – Pakistan

The political scene in Pakistan is dominated by parties whose membership comprise primarily of the landed class. The rivalry between these political parties is not ideological but is based on ethnicity. The religious parties operate at the margin and as such they do not command any substantial following. However, through the proliferation of madrassas they have channelled the ignorance of their following into a focused hatred of the West. The true centre of power in Pakistan is its armed forces and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence. The relationship between all of the state actors has inevitably been characterised by innuendo and confrontation.

Asif Ali Zardari is the current President of Pakistan and co-chairman of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. Nawaz Sharif is a former Prime Minister and currently President of Pakistan Muslim League(N). Notwithstanding the scandals that tainted these two individuals, the West relied on them to return Pakistan to democracy. The urgency of the ‘War on Terror’ being fought in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda and Taliban took precedence over all else. The problem in Pakistan is that the politicians usurp the wealth of the country and have no commitment to the people. This endemic corruption amongst the ruling classes has done more to undermine political stability than the insurgency in Afghanistan.

When the International Security Assistance Force withdraws from Afghanistan in 2014, it’s likely that a resurgent Taliban will attempt to overthrow the Karzai government in Kabul. A dishonest government, kept in power with US/EU aid won’t be able to withstand the onslaught especially with an Afghan army that is ill-equipped and demoralised. It’ll then fracture along ethnic lines with the Persian speaking Northern Alliance pitted against the Pashtun speaking south; the civil war will have begun in earnest. A proxy war will once again be fought in Afghanistan with Iran/Russia materially supporting the Northern Alliance and Pakistan/Saudi Arabia inevitably supporting the Islamist Taliban.

Mocking Islam or the Prophet

‘If you ask them, they declare: We were only talking idly and joking. Say: Was it at Allah, and His Ayat and His Messenger that you were mocking?’ (9:65). ‘O distress on the servants! There comes not to them any Messenger but they mock at him’ (36:30)
Why is it that we Muslims are surprised at the derogatory ‘Films’ and ‘Cartoons’ about Prophet Muhammad. We know it not to be credible; it doesn’t damage his persona one iota in my opinion.

What really creates a stink is the blood lust as expressed by some in the community in the UK and the many overseas. Not just that but they back it up with ‘Hadith’ that they claim warrants violence against the perpetrators.
Ibn Taymiyyah says in ‘Mukhtasar As-Saram Al-Maslool Ala Shatim Ar-Rasool (Summary of The Drawn Sword Against the One Who Curses the Messenger) Pages 31-33: Whoever curses the Prophet (PBUH), Muslim or Kafir, must be killed. The methodology of the scholars is also listed.

These ‘Hadith’ were compiled some 200 years after the death of our beloved Prophet. How often we hear the expression ‘Authentic Hadith’; implicit that they have been corrupted. Anybody who has even briefly studied ‘Hadith’ will admit that there are contradictions. They are preposterous, misogynistic and an incitement to violence; at great variance with the Quran.

There is no justification in the Noble Quran for the violence condoned by proponents of ‘Hadith’.
‘Verily, those who believe then disbelieve, then believe and then disbelieve, and then increase in disbelief; Allah will not forgive them nor guide them to the path’ (4:137). ‘And already We have sent down on you in the Book that if you hear Allah’s Verses being denied and ridiculed, then sit not with them, until they engage in a talk other than that; verily, you will then be like them. Surely, Allah will collect the hypocrites and the disbelievers all together in hell’ (4:140).

It is the prerogative of Allah Subhana to deal with those who ‘Mock’ or the ‘Apostate’; their killing is most certainly not sanctioned in the Quran. However, the misguided amongst us think it their religious duty to impose what they call the ‘Shariah’ on everybody else. I believe that there is a latent hatred amongst them stemming from low self-esteem and an absence of credible role models.

The only ‘Authentic Hadith’

I often hear Muslims categorically state that we have to embrace the Noble Quran and Hadith in order to follow the Sunnah. They say that it is ‘Kufr’ to separate the revelations that Prophet Muhammad recited from his sayings and teachings. They insist that even when he was in conversation with the companions, the laity or the Ahl Al-Bait; God was speaking through him. I would like to remind these Muslims that our Prophet sought guidance from what was revealed to him by the Almighty. Whenever he felt the great burden of responsibility and was distraught, he would turn to the verses of the Quran for solace. ‘And we have sent down to you the Book as an exposition of everything, a guidance, a mercy, and glad tidings for those who have submitted themselves’ (16:89). ‘We have explained in detail in this Quran for the benefit of mankind, every kind of similitude but man is in most things, contentious’ (18:54). ‘We have neglected nothing in the Book’ (6:38).

At a more personal level, I do believe in the Noble Quran and in the perfect example of our Prophet. The Noble Quran is the touchstone, an intellectual measure by which we confirm the veracity of Hadith. ‘Say: if the mankind and the jinn were together to produce the like of this Quran, they could not produce the like thereof even if they helped one another’ (16:88). As the Quran was being revealed, the Prophet would commit it to memory and then recite it to his companions. During these recitations the companions would memorize the Revelations; scribes would record the same in writing. The scribes would then read what they had written back to the Prophet; he would in-turn correct their mistakes. With each new Ayah that was revealed, the Prophet would dictate its placement within the Quranic order. This effectual process of validation was resolutely adhered to during the period the Prophet received the Revelations. ‘We have without doubt sent down the message, and We will assuredly guard it’ (15:9).

‘This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed my favour upon you and chosen for you Islam as your religion’ (5:3). Does what the Prophet say in the passing after the revelation of this verse, still be considered ‘Divine’; and for how long. The question is that if the sayings and teachings of the Prophet are ‘Divine’ then why can’t we recite them during Namaz. Why did the companions not feel the need to compile these traditions during the lifetime of the Prophet or soon after? Even when many of the companions were killed in the Wars of Apostasy at the time of Caliph Abu Bakr, the concern was primarily with collating the Quran. From what I have researched to-date, I unequivocally believe that the Noble Quran is the only ‘Authentic Hadith’ – ‘He has taught man that which he knew not’ (96:5).

Ignorance in our midst

People I have spoken with often hasten to call Jews and Christians disbelievers. I am disconcerted at the ease with which people condemn whole communities. Are all Jews and Christians ‘Kafir’ and all those who call themselves ‘Muslim’, believers? The Arabic word ‘Muslim’ translates to ‘one who submits to God’ in English. By virtue of this those who submitted to what was revealed to the Prophets are all ‘Muslim’. Al Quran(3:52) “When Jesus sensed disbelief, he said: Who are my helpers toward Allah? The disciples said: We are the helpers of Allah; we believe in Allah, and bear witness that we are Muslims.” Al Quran(7:159) “And of the people of Moses there is a community who guide with the truth and act justly.”

The tradition-bound and the obstinately opinionated will state outright that Jews and Christians cannot be trusted. Al Quran(5:51) “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends; they are but friends of each other. And if any amongst you takes them as friends, then surely he is one of them. Verily, God guides not those people who are wrong-doers.” They will claim that Judaism and Christianity are not religions recognized by Islam. Al Quran(3:85) “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.”

But the Arabic word ‘Islam’ translates to ‘Submission to the will of God’ in English. Can we say with certainty that all Jews and Christians don’t submit but all who call themselves ‘Muslim’, do? Al Quran(5:69) “Surely, those who believe and those who are Jews and the Sabians and the Christians – whosoever believes in God and the Last Day, and does righteous deeds, on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” Al Quran(22:40) “And were it not for Allah restraining mankind through the act of some opposing others, pulled down would be monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques wherein the name of Allah is mentioned in great profusion.”

I am saddened by the ‘Jahiliyah’ of a people who have in their possession a beautifully written book of prose and poetry – The Noble Quran. Al Quran(29:46) “And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in a way that is good, except with those among them that transgress; and say: We believe in that which has been sent down to us and sent down to you; our God and your God is One, and we have to Him submitted.” The problem is that people in our community are often ill-informed; their prejudice mostly gets the better of them. Any attempt at dialogue/debate to rectify this imbalance is usually met with a volley of ‘Quranic’ rhetoric and threats of violence. Is it any wonder that our fellow citizens look at us with the greatest of suspicion; probably asking themselves what it is that we are doing in this country if we do not agree with its ethos.

An opinion on the ‘Schism’

I am trying to ascertain what exactly happened subsequent to the death of our beloved Prophet. From what I have researched I can summarise that there was a sudden and an acute power vacuum. The selection of a temporal leader turned into a battle of succession for the very soul of Islam. Clan/Tribal allegiances came to the fore as ground realities clashed with the naivety of the ‘Sahabah’. Sassanid Persia and Roman Byzantine were waiting in the offing and false prophets were raising their ugly heads.

It must be the case that the Prophet left no clear instructions as to who would lead the Muslims after his death. I believe he did this deliberately because an explicit appointment would have accorded sanctity to the individual/clan. This in turn would have set a precedence for the creation of a religious figurehead with the stature of a prophet. Our Prophet understood the pitfalls of leaving behind an institution that would have become a proxy for the Noble Quran.

What is surprising is that even those closest to the Prophet disagreed about who should lead the ‘Ummah’ after his death. It’s difficult to contemplate that if the Prophet did leave clear instructions, those closest to him would disagree so soon after his death. That’s my reason for insisting that power should’ve been devolved to the clans/tribes, not institutionalised in a Caliphate.

Religious institutions are inherently corrupt because they usurp power from the communities they claim to represent. The Caliphate by default would’ve acted as proxy for the Noble Quran and the Sunnah, creating resentment in sections of the ‘Ummah’. Those whose wealth and/or position had not dissipated in the struggle for Islam, would inevitably come to dominate the Caliphate.

Concentration of power mostly results in nepotism and sycophancy, suffocating the individuals’ aspiration to achieve through merit. Hence, the absence of an enlightened ‘Ummah’ through informed scholarship; instead a pervasive ‘Jahalat’ promoted by a leadership that only reflects the prejudices of the body politic.