How were the attacks on the USA viewed by the Spanish Muslim community?
MA: The Muslim community in Spain is enormously diverse, and has undeniably subscribed to varied and sometimes contradictory points of view on this issue. My own view is that the best reference-point for a Muslim is in the Quran, where Allah says:
‘Fight, for the sake of Allah, those who fight against you; but do not commit aggression; surely Allah does not love aggressors.’ (al-Baqara, 190)
From this perspective it is not possible to accept that whoever has committed these horrific terroristic acts is someone acting from within Islam.
We viewed the attacks, nonetheless, with a very high degree of concern. Initially there was the pain for the innocent victims and their families, expressed in many letters of condolence. This was followed, secondly, and as a result of the media treatment of the event, by a preoccupation with the consequences of the attack. We Spanish Muslims have seen our religion, our spiritual way, demonized and transformed by the power of the press into something monstrous. We have no alternative to interpreting this as part of the onslaught which has been launched in certain powerful circles (principally in the US) in an attempt to make all of Islam a new arena of conflict. This has the capacity to push the arms race into a new aggressive spiral which can only destroy us. As Ecclesistessays: ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’
Do you think that your position is substantially different to that which we might find elsewhere in the Muslim community?
MA: I don’t know all the responses and interpretations that are out there. I know, however, that there are many Muslims who have allowed themselves to be caught by the dialectic of ‘united against the Other’, and who have fallen into the logic of confrontation, exclusion, and war. But for us, Islam and the West are not incompatible. Allah is the One Creator. In reality, we ourselves are as much Muslims as we are Western. We are living proof of the falsity of this supposed incompatibility.
What could motivate an attack such as this against the Muslims?
MA: A deep reality which is latent in our societies, and which we have been denouncing for years: the aberrant image of Islam purveyed by the media. In many cases we know that there is an almost instinctive reaction of contempt towards everything which is not understood. President Bush has issued a summons to a ‘crusade’, and Norman Cohn has spoken of ‘America’s Holy War.’ It is tragic that in moments of crisis irrationality and emotion prevail, when it is exactly at these times when we most need the ability to reflect. A further problem is that the press only depicts what is newsworthy.
Who is Usama Bin Laden?
MA: We reject absolutely any form of terrorism, from whichever state, or group of desperate men, it may emanate. Bin Laden is seen as a product of the American compromise with the Saudi government during the combat with the Soviet Union. But there is something more obscure at work here. The Western governments seem to spare no effort in identifying the spokesmen of Islam with the most radical elements. Today, the new ‘representative’ of Islam is a man whose existence serves American interests. All of this leads to a false dialogue which identifies Islam with fundamentalism, producing a dialectic of confrontation in which Islam itself is conspicuous by its absence.
How do you assess Bin Laden’s interpretation of Islam?
We know little enough about him, but his association with the Taleban movement shows that he advocates an Islam which has lost all its richness and its open character. They pick up a few phrases and convert them into legal precepts stripped of all nuance. This loss of context robs Islam of its all its human dimension and in fact bypasses the greater part of the Quranic message. To explain the origins of this type of interpretation would take too long, and it is enough to remark that it is a legalistic conception which has little to do with the full religion of Islam. It is an interpretation which has always been supported by colonialist policy, and its most prominent representatives have always worked as effective allies of the British and the Americans.
How concerned are the Muslims of Spain? What is the nature of their worries? Have you detected any form of agitation, and if so, what?
MA: The Muslim fears Allah alone. What He wishes for us is what is best for us. But we are concerned about the level of ignorance. People have shown themselves to be highly suggestible and there are forces at work which profit from this. The principal form of agitation emanates from the press, which repeats official opinion without question. In times such as these we should not flag in the task of urging reflection and wisdom.
Dr. Mansur Abdussalam Escudero
Former President of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Organisations
La reacción de los musulmanes españoles ante los acontecimientos del 11 de Septiembre ha sido clara. La Federación Española de Entidades Religiosas Islámicas (FEERI) emitió un comunicado en el que afirmaba que “hechos de este tipo violan no sólo los derechos humanos más elementales sino también las enseñanzas y principios más básicos del Islam.”
Dos semanas después del desastre del World Trade Center, un musulmán negro que conozco visitó una tienda de revistas situada a unos pocos bloques del lugar de la catástrofe. Los dueños de la tienda, que habían vuelto a abrir justo aquel día, eran cinco immigrantes senegaleses. Aquella mañana, una cliente, que conocía perfectamente que los dueños eran musulmanes, entró en la tienda, se acercó a ellos y les dijo: “ Que pena tan terrible lo que ha pasado. Pero no os preocupéis. Sabemos que los que lo hicieron no eran musulmanes. Eran wahhabis.”
El mundo occidental está ahora comenzando a comprender por qué el Wahbismo es tan impopular entre los musulmanes. Joseph Biden, presidente del Comité de Relaciones Internacionales del Senado, usualmente no muy dado a apreciaciones sutiles de la fe islámica, ha dicho que los “saudíes estan teniendo que comprar sus grupos exteremistas con el fin de autoperpetuarse … esencialmente, están financiando una parte significativa de eso con lo que ahora tratamos – el Islam descarriado.”
El destacado escritor andaluz Mansur Escudero, él mismo un veterano de la yihad afgana contra en terror soviético, reaccionó de la siguiente manera: “Sentimos un absoluto rechazo hacia toda forma de terrorismo, sea perpetrado por cualquier Estado, o proveniente de los desesperados del mundo. Bin Laden es visto como un producto del compromiso estadounidense con la monarquía saudí para combatir a la Unión Soviética. Pero ahí hay algo un poco más oscuro, que nos deja siempre al margen. Los gobernantes occidentales parecen siempre empeñados en señalar como interlocutores del Islam a los elementos más radicales. Ahora el nuevo ‘representante’ del Islam es un hombre cuyo poder proviene de los propios norteamericanos. Todo ello conduce a un falso diálogo que propicia la identificación del Islam con el fundamentalismo, a una dialéctica de enfrentamientos donde el Islam ‘brilla por su ausencia’.”
Según el periodista musulmán Stephen Schwartz, que escribe en el periódico inglés The Spectator, “Bin Laden es un extremista wahhabi, lo mismo que sus aliados egipcios, que, hace no muchos años, se regocijaban emitiendo blasfemos gritos de éxtasis, mientras apuñalaban a turistas extranjeros, con los brazos bañados en sangre. Y lo mismo ocurre con los terroristas islámicos argelinos, cuya gran contribución a la purificación del mundo ha consistido en asesinar a gente por pecados tales como utilizar un proyector de cine o leer periódicos seculares … la inmensa mayoría de musulmanes en el mundo … odia el wahhabismo porque éste significa una violenta quiebra con la tradición… Exponer las dimensiones de la influencia extremista saudí y wahhabi entre los musulmanes americanos pondría en un embarazoso compromiso a muchos cléricos islámicos en Estados Unidos.”
El análisis académico ha concluido también que el Islam saudí se encuentra en el centro de la crisis actual. Muchos estudios citan la tesis de 1998 del disidente saudí Nawaf Obeid, en Harvard. Dice este autor: “Según un oficial de alto rango del Ministerio de Justicia (Saudí), Sheij Mohammed bin Yubeir (actual presidente del Consejo Consultivo Saudí), que ha sido considerado como el ‘exportador’ del credo wahhabi en el mundo musulmán, era un decidido defensor de la ayuda a los talibán.”
Los simpatizantes con los ataques contra las Torres Gemelas reaccionan a la defensiva ante las obvias preguntas. Yusuf Rodríguez, al entrevistar a activistas pro-wahhabi en El Cairo, obtuvo esta respuesta: “¿Guerra justa? Les digo que la guerra santa tiene condiciones claras en el Islam, que no se puede matar a mujeres y niños. No encuentro una respuesta única. Unos dicen que esos no son musulmanes, otros dicen que, en circunstancias extremas , en guerras sin ejército, eso es inevitable, e incluso dudan de la inocencia de un pueblo que apoya la injusticia de sus gobernantes. ¿Se puede justificar así la muerte de cualquier americano? Te dicen que no atacaron al pueblo americano sino a sitios claves, símbolos del poder de sus dioses.”
La vehemencia wahhabi de este tipo – especialmente entre los árabes – no es ni mucho menos infrecuente, pese a su obvio alejamiento del fiqh ortodoxo y normal. Sin embargo, las bombas americanas no caen sobre las universidades saudíes en Medina y Riyadh, en cuyos laboratorios se diseñan las nuevas corrientes de wahhabismo, cargadas de odio. Ni tampoco figura Arabia Saudí en la lista de estados que apoyan el terrorismo, elaborada, de forma notablemente torpe, por los americanos. Los saudíes, como de costumbre, se libran de una crítica seria, pese a que los expertos están de acuerdo en señalar que, aunque tal vez ellos mismos nos sean la raíz del problema, sí que están, indudablemente, alimentándolo.
Los observadores musulmanes especulan acerca de las razones de esta extraña contradicción. Pocos creen que la política americana ignore aún tantas cosas acerca de la dinámica interna de Oriente Medio que simplemente no tenga ni idea acerca de la implicación de los wahhabis en el terrorismo internacional. La respuesta, sugieren, se halla en los intereses de la industria americana. Arabia Saudita es el aliado más importante de Estados Unidos en la lucha para mantener bajo el precio del petróleo. De forma no menos significativa, Arabia Saudí compra armamento americano, manteniendo así a flote la ingente industria armamentística cuyo futuro parecía amenazado por el final de la guerra fría.
Denis Holiday, el anterior Vicesecretario General de las Naciones Unidas, que dimitió en respuesta a las sanciones contra Iraq, realiza la siguiente observación: “Si atendemos a las ventas de armamento americano, Sadam Hussein es el mejor vendedor que existe. Calculo que más de 100 billones han sido vendidos a los Saudíes, Kuwaitíes, los Estados del Golfo, Turquía, Israel, etc. Y todo gracias a Sadam. Sólo la semana pasada, se vendieron 6.2 billones de dólares en aviación militar a los Emiratos Árabes Unidos. ¿Pará que diantre necesita un pequeño país un armamento como ese?” Claramente, esta es una gallina de los huevos de oro que los americanos van a resistirse a sacrificar.
Otros musulmanes sospechan que las razones de la indiferencia americana por el wahhabismo hay que buscarlas en una estrategia para acabar con el Islam mediante el apoyo a un movimiento que lo está destruyendo desde dentro. Jurshiddudin, responsable de una mezquita en Barcelona, sugiere, tal vez con cierta paranoia, que el Islam ortodoxo, con sus caminos espirituales y su rica herencia cultural e intelectual, es percibido como la verdadera amenaza para los Estados Unidos. Occidente, según esta opinión, permite que las universidades wahhabis continúen enviando sus misioneros por todo el mundo islámico, con el fin de eliminar cualquier dimensión de la religión que pudiese atraer a los occidentales, e interesar a la gente educada de los países musulmanes.
Jurshiddudin, que pasó algún tiempo en una universidad en Meca, para terminar por convertirse en un veterano crítico del extremismo, realiza también una observación puramente religiosa. Como otros musulmanes sunníes, Jurshiddudin cree que las actuales desgracias del mundo islámico prueban que, debido a la difusión de doctrinas falsas, los musulmanes han dejado de merecer el favor divino que un día les diese dominio sobre el planeta.
Jurshiddudin recuerda cómo “el Califa otomano Mehmet recibió el permiso divino para capturar Constantinopla cuando envió a sus derviches a la vanguardia del ejército, y estos llevaron a cabo una ceremonia sufí a la vista de los muros de la ciudad. En aquellos tiempos, había tantos awliya (santos) rezando por el ejercíto musulmán que el Islam salía victorioso incluso en sitios en los que nunca había vencido.”
El valiente Jurshiddudin insiste en que “debemos preguntarnos por qué las oraciones de estos extremistas no son respondidas. En Argelia, rezan todos los días por la destrucción del gobierno, pero sus oraciones son rechazadas. En Afganistán, rezan por la derrota de los americanos, pero sus oraciones son rechazadas. En Egipto, rezan por la muerte de Mubarak y los cristianos, pero sus oraciones son rechazadas. Si pretenden ser el tipo de musulmanes que Allah ama, deberían observarse a sí mismos, y preguntarse por qué fracasan sus oraciones.”
Muchos creen que esta crítica ortodoxa del wahhabismo contiene una predicción acerca de su caída. “La popularidad del wahhabismo se debe a un sentido de frustración política y social,” dice Ismael del Pozo, un periodista de Andalucía que también ha tenido contactos con wahhabis. “Y si está enraizado en sentimientos políticos, morirá con rapidez cuando sus motivos políticos terminen por fracasar.” Del Pozo señala que en España, los wahhabis norteafricanos que hicieron público su apoyo a los ataques al World Trade Center han callado completamente tras el súbito colapso de los talibán, los importantes aliados de loas wahhabis en Afganistán. La embajada saudí ha estado haciendo llamadas telefónicas a mezquitas y organizaciones, anunciando que su financiación ha sido repentinamente cancelada.
La situación del Cáucaso también ha forzado a muchos antiguos simpatizantes de los wahhabis a preguntarse acerca del fracaso de sus oraciones. En Azerbaiyán, los intentos de atacar al gobierno por parte de pequeños grupos wahhabis, liderados por Mubariz Aliev, han logrado tan sólo que el régimen se torne anti-religioso. Aliev, arrestado en Bakú por el ataque de diciembre de 1998 contra el Banco Europeo de Reconstrucción y Desarrollo, lideraba un grupo que, según se cree, estaba implicado en una serie de amenazas contra ‘el cuartel general de la idolatría’, y que culminaron en 1999 con el asesinato del famoso astrólogo Etibar Yerkin y sus dos hijos. Por ahora, el gobierno de Azerbaiyán ha suprimido el terror wahhabi, pero el precio pagado por musulmanes ordinarios ha sido muy grande: las mezquitas y los periódicos son examinados con creciente desconfianza, amenazando con debilitar la revivificación del Islam entre la minoría sunní de la república, y con lanzar a jóvenes airados a ataques vengativos que no hacen sino provocar una mayor represión gubernamental.
En las repúblicas del Norte del Cáucaso, el wahhabismo es el mayor responsable del fracaso de los esfeurzos por reintroducir la Sharia o Ley islámica, y por presentar un frente musulmán unido contra la ocupación militar rusa. La página web del gobierno de Chechenia en el exilio, www.amina.com, identifica la expansión del wahhabismo como una de las causas más importantes de la caída, hace dos años, de la independiente Chechenia.
El ascenso del wahhabismo en esta región, devastada por siete décadas de ateísmo oficial, data usualmente de 1991, con el establecimiento de la madrasa El-Hikma en la ciudad de Kizilyut, en el Dagestán. Su director Bagauddin Kebedov, aceptó fondos y asesoramiento de dos organizaciones wahhabis, Al-Haramain y Al-Igase. Aunque ninguno de estos grupos defendía la revolución armada, las creencias que estimularon condujeron a algunos de los 700 estudiantes de la madrasa a declarar que los musulmanes caucasianos normales eran apóstatas (murtad). Cuando Kebedov partió para Chechenia en 1998 y su sucesor, un wahhabi relativamente moderado llamado Ahmad-Qadi Ajtaev murió al año siguiente, tuvo lugar una súbita radicalización. Bajo el liderazgo del soldado wahhabi saudí Abd el-Rahman Hattab y su socio checheno Shamil Basayev, los wahhabis locales atacaron las comisarías de policía y las mezquitas tradicionales sunníes del Dagestán. La revuelta fue rápidamente aplastada, pero trajo como consecuencia una creciente dependencia de las fuerzas rusas por parte del Dagestán, así como la huida de Chechenia de los líderes wahhabis.
En aquel tiempo, el presidente checheno Aslan Maskadov lideraba una nación chechena completamente independiente. Arabia Saudí, temerosa de provocar la ira de Moscú, se había negado a reconocerla (aun cuando el diminuto pero evidentemente más arrojado estado de Estonia lo había reconocido sin dudar). Tal vez a causa de la política saudí, Mashkadov adoptó una línea marcadamente anti-wahhabi. En 1998, al anunciar el éxito de la Guardia Nacional chechena en repeler un ataque de wahhabis en la ciudad de Gudermes, anunció que “el liderazgo checheno tiene fuerza suficiente para detener la expansión en Chechenia de la perniciosa doctrina anti-islámica de los wahhabis.” Añadió que “las formaciones militares de orientación wahhabi serán desarmadas y desmanteladas. Los cabecillas e ideólogos de estos movimientos serán perseguidos legalmente. Antes de permitírseles partir, deberán hacer frente a un tribunal de la Sharia y ser castigados por su intento de provocar una guerra civil en Chechenia.”
La incursión de los soldados de Basayev en Agosto de 1999 dio lugar a la guerra que el común de los chechenos había temido tanto. Según la página web oficial de Chechenia, “A lo largo de todo aquel verano, la gente sabía que se estaban reclutando a muchachos de las áreas wahhabis. Cualquiera podía ver que, si los comandos empezaban a causar problemas en el Dagestán, habría una nueva guerra con Rusia. Así que los líderes de los clanes acudieron a Shamel Basayev y le pidieron que abandonara su plan. Pero él no hizo ningún caso.” La presencia de Hattab era particularmente provocativa. En una entrevista con Greg Myre, de Associated Press, llegó a lanzar amenazas explícitas: “Que Rusia espere nuestras explosiones en sus ciudades. Juro que lo haré.”
La incursión wahhabi trajo consigo, como se temía, una invasión masiva de los rusos. A diferencia de la primera guerra chechena, documentada por Anatol Lieven en su libroChechenia: la tumba del poder soviético, este nuevo conflicto contenía un ingrediente wahhabi significativo. El fracaso era, por tanto, inevitable, y Chechenia está hoy firmemente en manos de Moscú. “La ira local contra los wahhabis,’ dice un comentarista checheno, “es hoy más encendida que nunca.”
Después de la catástrofe en el Cáucaso, Hattab buscó refugio en Afganistán, donde pudo haber muerto en la reciente lucha por la ciudad norteña de Kunduz. En Kunduz también murió Yuma Namangani, líder del Movimiento Islámico wahhabi de Uzbekistán. Namangani saltó a la fama durante los vernaos de 1999 y 2000, cuando sus soldados invadieron áreas remotas de Uzbekistán y Tayikistán, estableciendo un pequeño campamento utópico wahhabi en la región de Tavildere, cerca de la capital tayika de Dushanbe. Después de su incursión en Kirguistán, el alcalde de la ciudad de Osh, que había sido saqueada por las fuerzas wahhabis, observó: “No puedo decir que no haya problemas. Los wahhabis se mantienen muy activos entre los jóvenes, que saben poco acerca del Islam.” En Tayikistán, sin embargo, el gobierno diezmó pacíficamente las filas de los partidarios de Namangani, cuando el Tribunal Supremo legalizó los partidos islámicos de oposición. Más de la mitad de los antiguos activistas de Namangani aceptaron una amistía y eligieron carreras en el ejército o la policía. La última formación rebelde significativa, que contaba con 800 hombres bajo el mando de Mirza Ziaev fue completamente integrada dentro del gobierno tayiko, y el mismo Ziaev fue nombrado ministro de Defensa Civil. Un núcleo duro de soldados fundamentalmente árabes y chechenos permanecieron en las colinas, llamando a todos los que cambiaban de bando ‘apóstatas’ y ‘hermanos de los demonios’.
El fracaso del extremismo en el Cáucaso y en Asia Central ha sido ahora repetido en Afganistán. Jurshiddudin cree que el fracaso de Chechenia refleja con exactitud el fracaso del extremismo en Afganistán. Un gobierno islámico sunní local fue incapaz de impedir que su territorio fuese usado por activistas wahhabis, muchos de ellos venidos de Oriente Medio. “La explicación más obvia del súbito fracaso que siguió,” añade, “es la provocación a estados más poderosos representados por la radicalización y la creciente xenofobia de las poblaciones. Pero la verdadera explicación musulmana es que dondequiera que va esta gente, atraen el rechazo de Allah. Faltan el respeto a los santos, rechazan a los ulema (teólogos, eruditos) Hanafi, atemorizan a mujeres y cristianos e introducen fitna (división) en cada mezquita. En esta situación Allah no ayudará a un estado musulmán. Solo basta con mirar a Argelia. Allah dice que ‘venceréis si sois verdaderos creyentes.’ Necesitan reflexionar sobre este verso.”
Jurshiddudin cree firmemente que los talibán estarían aún en el poder si el Mulá Omar no se hubiera dejado arrastrar a una alianza con los partidarios, fundamentalmente saudíes, de Bin Laden. En este sentido, cita al Mulá Muhammad Jaksar, el anterior viceministro del interior de los talibán, que denunció la política del Mulá Omar tras la caída de Kabul, diciendo: “La personalidad del Mulá Omar cambió en un 95% desde el comienzo del movimiento. No creo que los árabes deban ser perdonados. Fue por culpa de ellos que la aviación americanan vino a Afganistán y bombardeó nuestro país, matando a miles de personas.”
Muchos de los que han comentado la crisis en las principales páginas web musulmanes de habla española parecen subrayar el análisis de Jaksar. La alianza con Bin Laden fue una catástrofe para el pueblo afgano, y un regalo para los amricanos, que ahora se están atrincherando en Uzbekistán y ya están trabajando en un nuevo oleoducto que cruza la región. Algunos incluso echan la culpa de la acusada sequía afgana (que comezó, de forma más acusada, en 1998, el año de la fatwa de Bin Laden defendiendo el asesinato indiscriminado de ciudadanos americanos) a la decisión del Mulá Omar, citando el verso coránico: ‘Si la gente de los pueblos hubiesen creído de verdad, Habríamos vertido sobre ellos bendiciones de los cielos.” Trágicamente, la ‘gente de los pueblos’ y sus gobernantes recibieron bombas en vez de bendiciones.
As New York turns its gap-toothed face to the sky, wondering if the worst is yet to come, Muslims, largely unheeded by the wider world, are counting the cost of the suicide bombings. The backlash against mosques and hijabs has been met by statements from Muslim communities around the globe, some stilted, but others which have clearly found an articulate and passionate voice for the first time. In comparison with the pathetic near-silence that hovered around mosques and major organisations during the Rushdie and Gulf War debacles, the communities now seem alert to their cultural situation and its potential precariousness. Many of the condemnations have been more impressive than those of the American President, who seems unable to rise above clichés.
The motives are twofold. Firstly, and most patently, Sunni Muslims have been brought up in a universe of faith that renders the taking of innocent lives unimaginable. By condemning the attacks, we know that we defend the indispensable essence of Islam. Secondly, Muslims as well as others have died in large numbers. The Friday Prayers in the World Trade Centre always attracted more than 1,500 worshippers from the office community, many of whom have now surely died. The tourists, who spent their last moments choking on the observation deck, waiting for the helicopters that never came, no doubt included many Muslim parents and their children.
But the Western powers and their fearful Muslim minorities, both battered so grievously by recent events, now need to think beyond press-releases and ritual cursings. We need to recognise, firstly, that there has been a steady ‘mission-creep’ in terrorist attacks over the past twenty years. Hijackings for ransom money gave way to parcel bombs, then to suicide bombs, and now to kiloton-range urban mayhem. It is not at all clear that this escalation will be terminated by further anti-terrorist legislation, further billions for the FBI, or retina scans at Terminal Three. America’s tendency to assume that money can buy or destroy any possible obstacle to its will now stands under a dark shadow. Far from being a climax and the catalyst for a hi-tech military solution, the attacks may be of more historical significance as an announcement to the militant subculture that a Star-Wars superpower is utterly vulnerable to a handful of lightly-armed young men. There could well be more and worse to come.
Sobered by this, the State Department is likely to come under pressure from business interests to ask the question it never seems to notice. Why is there so much hatred of the United States, and so much yearning to poke it in the eye? Are the architects of policy sane in their certainty that America can enrage large numbers of people, but contain that rage forever through satellite technology and intrepid double-agents? Businessmen and bankers will now start to read carefully enough to discern that it is not US national interest, but the power of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, that tends to drive Washington’s policy in the world’s greatest troublespot. Threatened with disaster, corporate America may just prove powerful enough to face AIPAC down, and suggest, firmly, that the next time Israel asks Washington to veto the UN’s desire to send observers to Hebron, it pauses to consider where its own interests might lie.
Among Muslims, the longer-term aftershock will surely take the form of a crisis among ‘moderate Wahhabis’. Even if a Middle-Eastern connection is somehow disproved, they cannot deny forever that doctrinal extremism can lead to political extremism. They must realise that it is traditional Islam, the only possible alternative to their position, which owns rich resources for the respectful acknowledgement of difference within itself, and with unbelievers. The lava-stream that flows from Ibn Taymiyya, whose fierce xenophobia mirrored his sense of the imminent Mongol threat to Islam, has a habit of closing minds and hardening hearts. It is true that not every committed Wahhabi is willing to kill civilians to make a political point. However it is also true that no orthodox Sunni has ever been willing to do so. One of the unseen, unsung triumphs of true Islam in the modern world is its complete freedom from any terroristic involvement. Maliki ulama do not become suicide-bombers. No-one has ever heard of Sufi terrorism. Everyone, enemies included, knows that the very idea is absurd.
Two years ago, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, warned of the dangers of mass terrorism to American cities; and he was brushed aside as a dangerous alarmist. Muslim organisations are no doubt beginning to regret their treatment of him. The movement for traditional Islam will, we hope, become enormously strengthened in the aftermath of the recent events, accompanied by a mass exodus from Wahhabism, leaving behind only a merciless hardcore of well-financed zealots. Those who have tried to take over the controls of Islam, after reading books from we-know-where, will have to relinquish them, because we now know their destination.
When that happens, or perhaps even sooner, mainstream Islam will be able to make the loud declaration in public that it already feels in its heart: that terrorists are not Muslims. Targeting civilians is a negation of every possible school of Sunni Islam. Suicide bombing is so foreign to the Quranic ethos that the Prophet Samson is entirely absent from our scriptures. Islam is a great world religion that has produced much of the world’s most sensitive art, architecture and literature, and has a rich life of ethics, missionary work, and spirituality. Such are the real, and historically-successful, weapons of Islam, because they are the instruments that make friends of our neighbours, instead of enemies fit for burning alive. Those that refuse them, out of cultural impotence or impatience, will in the longer term be perceived as so radical in their denial of what is necessarily known to be part of Islam, that the authorities of the religion are likely to declare them to be beyond its reach. If that takes place, then future catastrophes by Wahhabi ultras will have little impact on the image of communities, whose spokesmen can simply say that Muslims were not implicated. This is the approach taken by Christian churches when confronted by, say, the Reverend Jim Jones’s suicide cult, or the Branch Davidians at Waco. Only a radical amputation of this kind will save Islam’s name, and the physical safety of Muslims, particularly women, as they live and work in Western cities.
To conclude: there is much despair, but there are also grounds for hope. The controls of two great vehicles, the State Department, and Islam, need to be reclaimed in the name of sanity and humanity. It is always hard to accept that good might come out of evil; but perhaps only a catastrophe on this scale, so desolating, and so seemingly hopeless, could provide the motive and the space for such a reclamation.
Although the response from Muslims in the UK seems to have been very favourable to my essay, with one or two requests that it be sent to national newspapers for reprinting on their pages, it is inevitable that under pressure from real or potential rioters and cross-burners, some Muslims consider premature any attempt to begin a debate among ourselves about the cultural and doctrinal foundations of extremism.
It is true that no convictions have been secured, and that in the Shari’a suspects are innocent until proven guilty. However it is also regrettably the case that these suspects will not be tried under Shari’a law, and that we need, in the absence of a traditional framework of accusation and assessment, to hold our own discussions. This is particularly urgent in this case, since the damage to the honour of Islam, and the physical safety of innocent Muslims, in the West and in Central Asia and elsewhere, is very considerable. We Muslims are now at ‘ground zero’. As such, we cannot simply ignore the duty to ask each other what has caused the attitudes that probably, but not indisputably, lie at the root of these events.
My essay, which endeavoured to kick-start this debate, takes its cue primarily from the UK situation, which is no doubt less intense than in the US, but is nonetheless serious. In particular I am concerned to insist that Muslims distance themselves from, for instance, the janaza prayer for the hijackers that was held two days ago at a London Wahhabi mosque (the term Wahhabi is more useful, since ‘Salafi’ can also refer to the Abduh-Rida reformism and is hence confusing). Having spoken to the editor of one of this country’s major Muslim magazines, it is clear that the small minority of voices which have been raised in support of the terrorist act were in every case of the Wahhabi persuasion. Clearly, we cannot simply ignore this on grounds of ‘Muslim unity’, since those people appear so determined to destroy Muslim unity, and endanger the security of our community.
I hope that the recent events will spur Muslims to consider the implications for the wider ethos in which we understand our religion of the shift which we have witnessed over the past twenty years or so away from accommodationist and tolerant forms of Islam, and towards narrowmindedness. Al-Ghazali recommends a tolerant view of non-Muslims, and is prepared to grant that many of them may be saved in the next world; Ibn Taymiya, as Muhammad Memon has shown in his book on him, is vehement and adversarial. In our communities in the West, and indeed worldwide, we surely need the Ghazalian approach, not the rigorism of Ibn Taymiya. Not just because we need to reassure our neighbours, but also because we need to reassure those very many born Muslims who are made unsure about their attachment to Islam by events such as this that they can belong to the religion without being harsh and narrow-minded. Extremism can drive people right out of Islam. In 1999 the Conference of French Catholic bishops announced that 300 Algerians were among the year’s Easter baptisms. Noting that ten years earlier Muslims never converted at all, they reported that the change was the result of the spread of extreme forms of Islam in Algeria.
In Afghanistan, too, there are now Christians for the first time ever, and I have heard from one ex-Taliban member that this is because of the extremism with which Islam is imposed on the people. The shift away from traditional Islam, and towards Ibn Taymiya’s position, has been widely documented, for instance by Ahmad Rashid, in his chapter ‘Challenging Islam’, in his book on the Taliban. The Saudi-Wahhabi connection has been very conspicuous.
We must ask Allah to open the hearts of the Muslims everywhere to recognise that narrow mindedness and mutual anathema will lead us nowhere, and that only through spirituality, toleration and wisdom will we be granted success.
The most appropriate du’a’ for our situation would seem to be: ‘Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum, bi-rahmatika astaghiith’, which is recommended in a hadith in cases of fear and misfortune. It means: ‘O Living, O Self-Subsistent; by Your mercy I seek help.’
This article first appeared in Q-News, the Muslim magazine,
On September 11th our lives changed forever. We witnessed an act of aggression that in many ways does not have a parallel in past or present times. There are several elements that make this act unique, from the use of civilian planes as weapons of mass destruction to the attack on the most widely recognised skyscrapers in the world. Nor have we ever witnessed the terrible indictment of Islam as having a part to play in such a heinous crime, writes Hamza Yusuf.
Muslims were seen rejoicing in some parts of the world in a display of what can only be called shamaatatul aadai’, which is rejoicing at the calamities of ones’ enemies. This is something explicitly prohibited in Islam and was never practiced by the Prophet of Mercy, upon him be prayers and peace. We have seen images since of American flags burning to further arouse the wrath of a nation filled with grief, confusion and anger. Again, Islam prohibits the burning of flags according to the explicit verse, “Do not curse [the idols] of those who call on other than Allah, thus causing them to curse Allah out of animosity [toward you] and without knowledge.” This verse prohibits even the cursing of false gods because of the consequences. We have also seen image after image of Muslims with beards and turbans, who by all outward means look religious and pious – but are they really?
Unfortunately, the West does not know what every Muslim scholar knows; that the worst enemies of Islam are from within. The worst of these are thekhawaarij who delude others by the deeply dyed religious exterior that they project. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said about them, “When you see them pray you will consider your own prayers insignificant. They recite the Quran but it does not exceed the limits of their throat.” In other words, they don’t understand the true meanings. The outward religious appearance and character of the khawaarij deluded thousands in the past, and continues to delude people today. The Muslims should be aware that despite the khawaarij adherence to certain aspects of Islam, they are extremists of the worst type.
Our Prophet said, peace be upon him, “Beware of extremism in your religion.” Islam is the middle way between excess and neglect. Zealots are a plague upon religion. These extremists come in two types. The first is a reactionary extremist who falls far right of a centre-point. Reactionary extremists do not want any pluralism; they view the world in melodramatic, black and white, good and evil terms. They are good and anyone who opposes them is evil. From among the Muslims these are people who ‘excommunicate’ any Muslim who fails to share their interpretations of the Quran. They use takfir and character assassination as a tool for marginalising any criticism directed at them. They are used often by the Western media in order to scare simple people and cause them to believe that Muslims are insane. Unfortunately, our communities provide them with much fuel to fire their incendiary flames.
The second group are radical extremists, who while they are almost identical with the former group, differ in that they will use violence to further their cause. They are actually worse than the first. They believe like every nefarious secret society before them that ‘the end justifies the means.’ They see any act as acceptable if it will further their ‘cause.’ This is blatantly anti-Islamic for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Islam’s means must reflect its noble ends. Any means that does not embody the core truths and ethics of Islam is not from Islam and thus denounced as aberration. Secondly, Islam is not a secret society of conspirators who no one knows what they are planning. Islam declares openly its aims and objectives and these are recognised by good people everywhere as pure and congruent with their own wisdom and traditions. In the case of many of these extremists even the non-Muslims recognise that no religion of any weight could sanction the taking of innocent lives. The Quran says that the Torah and the Gospel have guidance and light and that the Quran came to fulfil these prior dispensations. Good Christians and Jews who believe in God and live ethically upright lives have no frame of reference for such acts, so how could these acts be from Islam, which confirms what has come before it?
Thirdly, they are invariably people who have never taken a true spiritual path to God and nor have they studied the humanities. I can almost guarantee that you will not find a scholar of poetry among the whole vile lot of these people. They have no true knowledge of Arabian culture, which is centred in the idea of futuwwa; a word akin to the western word chivalry. The terrorists posing as journalists who killed Ahmad Shah Masuud were cowards of the worst type. Killing themselves was not bravery but stupidity, but killing one’s enemy in such a way is the worst form of treachery and the Arabs have many poems denouncing such type of people.
Our real situation is this: we Muslims have lost theologically sound understanding of our teaching. Islam has been hijacked by a discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage. We have allowed for too long our mimbars to become bully pulpits in which people with often recognisable psychopathology use anger – a very powerful emotion – to rile Muslims up, only to leave them feeling bitter and spiteful towards people who in the most part are completely unaware of the conditions in the Muslim world, or the oppressive assaults of some Western countries on Muslim peoples. We have lost our bearings because we have lost our theology. We have almost no theologians in the entire Muslim world. The study of kalaam, once the hallmark of our intellectual tradition, has been reduced to memorizing 144 lines of al-Jawhara and a good commentary to study it, at best.
The reality is we are an Umma that no longer realises that Allah is the power behind all power; that it is Allah who subjugates one people to another; that He gives dominion to whom He pleases and He takes it away from whom He pleases. Our understanding of tawhid has fallen into such disarray that we can no longer introspect when afflictions befall us and then wonder in amazement at why the Americans seem incapable of introspection. Indeed, I personally attended a memorial service in San Francisco with over 30,000 people and the Reverend Amos Brown said in no uncertain terms that America must ask herself what she has done either wittingly or unwittingly to incur the wrath and hate of people around the world. Muslims on the other hand, generally prefer to attack the West as the sole reason for their problems when the truth is we are bankrupt as a religious community and our spiritual bankruptcy has led to our inability to even deliver the message of Islam to Westerners in a time when they were giving us platforms to do so.
It is ironic that the Western media while producing many vile programs on Islam has also produced and aired material of the highest quality with a high level of accuracy only to be vilified by Muslims because it was not good enough. Where is our media? Where are our spokespeople? Where are our scholars? Where are our literary figures? The truth is we don’t have any – and so instead of looking inward and asking painful questions such as why we don’t have such things and such people, we take the simple way out by attacking people whom Allah tells us will do mean things, say bad things and plot against us. And always when we are warned we are told to be patient, to work for the good, to trust in Allah, to return to Allah, to implement our deen.
Conspiracy or not, we are to blame for the terrible backlash against Muslims. The simple reason is that when a crazy Christian does something terrible, everyone in the West knows it is the actions of a mad man because they have some knowledge of the core beliefs and ethics of Christianity. When a mad Muslim does something evil or foolish they assume it is from the religion of Islam, not because they hate us but because they have never been told by a Muslim what the teachings of Islam are all about.
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
By what one can gather from the press, the FBI and CIA have seemingly been unable to prove who precisely, if anyone, may have masterminded the attack earlier this month on the World Trade Center other than the immediate assailants,who are presumed to have been a number of young men from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and one from the United Arab Emirates. Whoever they were, the facts point to a number of inescapable conclusions. The planning of it argues for a method to the madness, coupled with at least normal intelligence and a technical education, while the psychological facts entail that such people do not destroy themselves unless they see some advantage for themselves in doing so, which entails that they believed in an afterlife, meaning that according to their own standards, they were in all probability “religious.” The question arises: “What sort of religion condones killing thousands of ordinary civilian people?” The answer is “No religion at all.”
As far as I know, there is no religion or system of morality that justifies deliberately killing or injuring someone unless (1) he is an aggressor seeking to take one’s life, against whom one may defend oneself; (2) he has been proven to be guilty of a capital crime, or (3) he is a combatant in war. Most ethical systems agree upon these three justifications for deliberately inflicting death or injury upon someone. The World Trade Center tragedy raises the question of what on earth may have made some contemporary people think that these principles may be set aside?
If there are altogether no moral reasons for this crime, there is perhaps a discoverable mentality behind it. We call it “terrorism,” in view of its typical motive, which is to strike terror into the hearts of those conceived to be guilty by committing atrocities against those of the innocent who resemble the guilty closely enough, whether in race, citizenship, or social class, for the terror not to be lost on the guilty. But its enormity as a crime, as I apprehend it, lies less in the motive of its perpetrators, which is bad enough, than in the fact that shedding innocent blood is wrong. All previous moralities and religions agree that one cannot kill the innocent, but only the guilty. One cannot, for example, kill a generic “American” for the actions of other Americans, or for the actions of his country’s army if he is not part of it, or for the foreign policy of his government. In general, moral law mandates that one may not kill a man for what another man has done.
How has this now come to be set aside in some minds? While I am not a specialist in the history of atrocities, it seems to me that this basic principle of morality was first violated, and on a grand scale—and with the tacit and the spoken support of the intelligentsia, press, and policy makers—in the Second World War, with the advent of “carpet-bombing.” Here, ineffective attempts at precision bombing of military targets and factories gave way first to incendiary bombing of particular German cities to burn them down, then to “area bombing” of as much urban acreage as possible. Bombing everything—soldiers and civilians, combatants and non-combatants, residential areas and strategic targets—would shorten the war; so the bombs rolled out, and eliminating civilians became itself a major strategic aim. In Cologne, in Hamburg, in Dresden: the numbers of the dead were unprecedented and horrendous. In Dresden, where there were no war industries at all, some 130,000 were killed. Perhaps the ultimate “area bombing” (there is little reason not to call it “terror bombing”) was the atomic bomb dropped on the old Japanese provincial city of Hiroshima, and later on Nagasaki. Men, women, babies, schoolgirls: the first instantaneous flash of atomic radiation burned their clothes off them and cooked the outside of their bodies, then the concussion blew it off so that it hung down in flapping strips seen by those who survived when they looked at each other. One can read the eyewitness accounts. We were showing them what would happen if we dropped one on Tokyo. They got the picture.
My point is that a mentality has been given birth in this century, and the attempts by its beneficiaries to draw some legitimacy for it from existing morality or religion, if understandable at a psychological level, have nothing to do with morality or religion. This kind of terrorism is going on today, indeed has been carried out by American presidents and their proxies in Nicaragua, in Sudan, in Lebanon, and in Iraq for the last twenty years, as described by Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and others whose books and articles about these events are many and well-documented, and blithely ignored by almost everyone in America.
The little bands of bomb makers and plane hijackers are not at bottom religious men, but desperate men. They are inspired less by religion than by hope that on a symbolic scale they can somehow emulate the “success” of America’s and Israel’s “punitive strikes,” and “preemptive attacks.” Civilians die all the time in the West Bank and in Iraq. Someone in Jordan told me of a relative from another country who needed a kidney and could not find a donor of suitable blood group from his extended family, so he went to Iraq and bought one for two thousand dollars. The donor did not have food to eat, and was willing to sell his kidney. People are starving there. Birth defects and cancer are burgeoning from all the chemicals and explosives that have that been dropped on the people. Bombs are dropped from time to time to show them who is boss. According to Chomsky we have by now succeeded in killing one million civilians in Iraq, one half of whom were small children. The United States continually vetoes the United Nations initiative to allow UN observers into Israel to see what is being done to Palestinians there. In 1998 Clinton destroyed one half of Sudan’s pharmaceuticals and the means of replenishing them in punitive bombing raids on that country and killed untold numbers of civilians. How many? We don’t know, because the United States prevented the UN inquiry. Eighty percent of the refugees of the world bear Muslim last names. Desperation grows among these throngs, as hope wanes for a balanced U.S. foreign policy, or even an abatement of U.S. bombing and violence against Muslim civilian populations. There is no hope for people who know from the example of Nicaragua, Sudan, Iraq, and Israel that any attempt of redress or appeal to the United Nations orWorld Court will be vetoed or defied by the attackers. People without hope do a lot of things.
Someone recently informed me that half the terrorist organizations officially listed on some or another “terrorist watch website,” were Muslim. Though Islamic law does not countenance terrorism or suicide of any sort, and I know these organizations represent an extreme splinter of an extreme splinter of Islam, I did not find the statistic particularly shocking. Rather, if in the last fifty years world governments like the United States and Britain have somehow convinced themselves that it is morally acceptable to kill, starve, and maim civilians of other countries in order to persuade their governments to do something, it would be surprising if this conviction did not somehow percolate down to the dispossessed, the hopeless, the aggrieved, and the powerless of every religion and ethnic group in the world. It looks as if it has.
We Americans are not bombing people, young and old, whose lives, when they survive, are brutally interrupted by the loss of an arm or a leg, or a father, or a son, or a mother, or a house that the family saved for years to build. We are too civilized for that. Rather, we bomb Iraq. We bomb Sudan. We bomb Southern Lebanon. We bomb “Palestinian positions.” We don’t cause the tens of thousands of birth defective and mentally retarded babies with the chemical mayhem and ten-year famine we are currently paying for in Iraq: We are “imposing sanctions.” We don’t kill actual human beings with all the explosives we are dumping on these countries. We are killing generic Iraqis, generic Sudanis, generic Palestinians. It sounds like we may now have to kill some generic Afghanis. And now the shock of all shocks, the devastation of all devastations: some crazy people this past month decided to kill a lot of generic Americans. What on earth made them think it was morally acceptable to kill people who hadn’t committed any crime, who were not combatants, and were not killed in self-defense?
The answer, I apprehend, is not to be found in Islam, or in any religion or morality, but in the fact that there are fashions in atrocities and in the rhetoric used to dress them up. Unfortunately these begin to look increasingly like our own fashions and sound increasingly like our own rhetoric, reheated and served up to us. The terrorists themselves, in their own minds, were doubtless not killing secretaries, janitors, and firemen. That would be too obscene. Rather, they were “attacking America.”
The attack has been condemned, as President Bush has noted, by “Muslim scholars and clerics” across the board, and indeed by all people of decency around the world. I have read Islamic law with scholars, and know that it does not condone either suicide or killing non-combatants. But what to do about the crime itself?
The solution being proposed seems to be a technological one. We will highlight these people on our screens, and press delete. If we cannot find the precise people, we will delete others like them, until everyone else gets the message. We’ve done it lots of times. The problem with this is that it is morally wrong, and will send a clear confirmation—if more is needed beyond the shoot-em-ups abroad of the last decades that show our more or less complete disdain for both non-white human life and international law—that there is no law between us and other nations besides the law of the jungle. People like these attackers, willing to kill themselves to devastate others, are not ordinary people. They are desperate people. What has made them so is not lunacy, or religion, but the perception that there is no effective legal recourse to stop crimes against the civilian peoples they identify with. Our own and our clients’ killing, mutilating, and starving civilians are termed “strikes,” “preemptive attacks,” “raiding the frontiers,” and “sanctions”—because we have a standing army, print our own currency, and have a press establishment and other trappings of modern statehood. Without them, our actions would be pure “terrorism.”
Two wrongs do not make a right. They only make two wrongs. I think the whole moral discourse has been derailed by our own rhetoric in recent decades. Terrorism must be repudiated by America not only by words but by actions, beginning with its own. As ‘Abd al-Hakim Winter asks, “Are the architects of policy sane in their certainty that America can enrage large numbers of people, but contain that rage forever through satellite technology and intrepid double agents?” I think we have to get back to basics and start acting as if we knew that killing civilians is wrong.
As it is, we seem to have convinced a lot of other people that it is right, among them some of the more extreme elements of the contemporary Wahhabi sect of Muslims, including the members of the Bin Laden network, whom the security agencies seem to be pointing their finger at for this crime. The Wahhabi sect, which has not been around for more than two and a half centuries, has never been part of traditional Sunni Islam, which rejects it and which it rejects. Orthodox Sunnis, who make up the vast majority of Muslims, are neither Wahhabis nor terrorists, for the traditional law they follow forbids killing civilian non-combatants to make any kind of point, political or otherwise. Those who have travelled through North Africa, Turkey, Egypt, or the Levant know what traditional Muslims are like in their own lands. Travellers find them decent, helpful, and hospitable people, and feel safer in Muslim lands than in many places, such as Central America, for example, or for that matter, Central Park.
On the other hand, there will always be publicists who hate Muslims, and who for ideological or religious reasons want others to do so. Where there is an ill-will, there is a way. A fifth of humanity are Muslims, and if to err is human, we may reasonably expect Muslims to err also, and it is certainly possible to stir up hatred by publicizing bad examples. But if experience is any indication, the only people convinced by media pieces about the inherent fanaticism of Muslims will be those who don’t know any. Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide, and should simply tell people what their scholars and religious leaders have always said: first, that the Wahhabi sect has nothing to do with orthodox Islam, for its lack of tolerance is a perversion of traditional values; and second, that killing civilians is wrong and immoral.
And we Americans should take the necessary measures to get the ship of state back on a course that is credible, fair, and at bottom at least moral in our dealings with the other peoples of the world. For if our ideas of how to get along with other nations do not exceed the morality of action-thriller destruction movies, we may well get more action than we paid for.