Muslim Clerics Seek to Protect Christian Girl Accused of Blasphemy

The news that Muslim clerics have stood up on behalf of a Christian girl is a major turn from previous practice.  We have seen so much bitterness and brutality in that part of the world.  Now we have voices rising among the Muslim leadership calling for a more civil way of relating to each other in Pakistan.  Great news.  This group of Islamic leaders should be congratulated for their willingness to stand up for a non-Muslim girl accused of blasphemy.  In fact the accusers included a Muslim cleric.

The article appears in the Guardian, by Saeed Shah appeared on 8-27-12.  Some statements in the article:

Islamic leaders in Pakistan on Monday came out in support of a Christian girl with learning difficulties who is being held in prison, in an unprecedented public denunciation of the blasphemy law by hard-line mullahs. 

The All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars, which includes representatives from fundamentalist groups, joined hands with the Pakistan Interfaith League, which includes Christians, Sikhs and other religions, to call for justice for the girl, Rimsha, who is accused of blasphemy. They also demanded that those making false allegations be punished. 

Tahir Ashrafi, the chairman of the council, warned that the “law of the jungle” was gripping Pakistan … 

She is being held in a maximum security jail, where her lawyer says she is deeply traumatised and begging to be released. Her parents have also been taken into protective custody. “We see the Rimsha as a test case for Pakistan’s Muslims, Pakistan’s minorities and for the government,” Ashrafi said. “We don’t want to see injustice done with anyone. We will work to end this climate of fear.” 

Ashrafi is also part of the leadership of the radical Defence of Pakistan Council, a coalition of Islamic organisations which includes some thinly disguised banned militant groups. The outfit campaigns against western influence and to stop Nato supplies passing through the country to Afghanistan.

Women in the revolutions of the Arab world

Asghar Ali has an interesting comment on DNA [Daily News Analysis] about the place women played in the recent Arab spring movements, and how they could be again relegated to the margins in some places.  [Click on the title above for a link to the source.]

Behind every successful revolution is a womanAsghar Ali Engineer | Friday, November 11, 2011
 The Arab world saw great political turmoil in the beginning of 2011. The Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown before January 2011 ended. Then a similar turmoil began in Egypt and hundreds of thousands of people poured in Tahrir square to protest against Hosni Mubarak, another long serving dictator who was forced to go and then Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. Now all this has been much written about and need not be repeated, but what concerns us here is the role of women in these revolutionary changes.
 In all these countries, women played a very significant role, right from Tunisia to Yemen. Both in Egypt and Yemen, women’s initiatives proved to be crucial. In fact, the Tahrir mobilisation was due mainly to a young girl’s appeal on Facebook. The role of women was so significant that it was being expected that the Nobel Prize for Peace this year would be given to three women from Arab countries i.e. Tunis, Egypt and Yemen, but instead it went to women from Africa and Yemen, the latter a Muslim woman who also played a crucial role in the protection of human rights and in the political mobilisation for the overthrow of President Saleh, though there still remains a stalemate in Yemen.
 The myth that Muslim women merely sit at home and are worth nothing more than domestic workers and house makers has been shattered decisively. Muslim women have proved once again that they can mobilise people efficiently and purposefully. It is also interesting to note that many women in Tunisia and Egypt were quite active in trade unions and have used their experience to proper use and brought about change in the political sphere.
 But post-revolution a shadow of doubt hangs over them. What will this democratic revolution give them? Will it take over the rights they had gained under dictators? It is possible that Islamic laws are re-imposed in these countries. In Tunisia, the Ennahda Party has won elections. Though it describes itself as a moderate Islamic party, Ennahda leader Ghanushi has fortunately declared that there will be no change in gender laws, which clearly means polygamy will not be re-imposed.
 However, Libyan women are not so fortunate. The Libyan leader who is projected as the new Prime Minister after ousting Gaddafi has already announced that Islamic laws will be the only laws imposed and polygamy will be reintroduced. Gaddafi, undoubtedly a dictator who had to go, had also done lot of good in introducing and consolidating gender justice in Libya. He had given equal rights to women as provided for in the Qur’an. He abolished polyga-my and gave women an important role in public life. He even maintained that to confine women at home is an imperialist conspiracy to paralyse half the population of the Islamic world.   . . . .  [for more, click on the title for the whole article.]

A tribute to Abdurrahman Wahid

Paul Wolfowitz’s celebration of the life and influence of Abdurrahman Wahid, former President of Indonesia, is so worthwhile, and so useful as an antidote to what is often surmised about Muslims in the West, that I reproduce it here. Thanks to Ray Scupin for bringing to my attention. RLC

Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam

By PAUL WOLFOWITZ

Abdurrahman Wahid, who died last week at the age of 69, was the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest country and third largest democracy. It has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. Although he was forced from office after less than two years, he nevertheless helped to set the
course of what has been a remarkably successful transition to democracy.

Even more important than his role as a politician, Wahid was the spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, and probably in the world, with 40 million members. He was a product of Indonesia’s traditionally tolerant and humane practice of Islam, and he took that tradition to a higher level and shaped it in ways that will last long after his death.

Wahid recognized that the world’s Muslim community is engaged in what he called in a 2005 op-ed for this newspaper “nothing less than a global
struggle for the soul of Islam” and he understood the danger for Indonesia, for Islam and for all of us from this “crisis of misunderstanding that threatens to engulf our entire world.”

Wahid was one of the most impressive leaders I have known. Although his formal higher education was limited to Islamic studies in Cairo and Arabic literature in Baghdad, his breadth of knowledge was astounding. With a voracious appetite for knowledge and a remarkably retentive memory, he seemed to know all of the important Islamic religious and
philosophical texts. He also loved reading a wide range of Western literature (including most of William Faulkner’s novels) as well as Arabic poetry. He enjoyed French movies, and cinema in general, and could identify the conductor of a Beethoven symphony simply by listening to a recording. He was an avid soccer fan and once compared the different styles of two German soccer teams to illustrate two alternative strategies for economic development. He loved jokes, particularly political ones. During Suharto’s autocratic rule he
published a collection of Soviet political humor in Indonesian, with the obvious purpose of teaching his own people how to laugh at their rulers.

Despite all that learning, Wahid had a common touch that enabled him to express his thoughts in down-to- earth language. He thus gained broad
legitimacy for a moderate and tolerant vision. He could speak to young Indonesians, grappling with the relationship between religion and science by explaining to them the thoughts of a medieval Arab
philosopher like Ibn Rushd (known to Christian philosophers as Averroes). And he was all the more effective because he himself had grappled with controversial ideas.

Wahid had been somewhat attracted in his youth by the writings of Said Qutb and Hasan al Banna, the founders of the Muslim brotherhood, but his
deep humanism led him to reject them. When I visited him recently he told me of a long-ago visit to a mosque in Morocco where an Arabic translation of Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” was on display. Seeing that book had brought tears to his eyes and Wahid explained: “If I hadn’t read the ‘Nichomachean Ethics’ as a young man, I might have
joined the Muslim brotherhood.”

No doubt, what had so impressed Wahid was that Aristotle could arrive at deep truths about matters of right and wrong without the aid of religion, based simply on the belief that “the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason” (Nichomachean Ethics, Book I). But his tears must have reflected the thought of how close he had
come to accepting a cramped and intolerant view of life and humanity.

Throughout his public career, three ideas were central to Wahid’s thinking. First was that true belief required religious freedom. “The essence of Islam,” he once wrote, is “encapsulated” in the words of the Quran, “For you, your religion; for me, my religion.” Indonesia, he believed, needs “to develop a full religious tolerance based on freedom
of faith.” Second was his belief that the fundamental requirement for democracy-or any form of just government-is equal treatment for all
citizens before the law. Third, that respect for minorities is essential for social stability and national unity, particularly for Indonesia with
its extraordinary diversity.

Throughout his career Wahid spoke up forcefully for people with unpopular ideas-even ones he disagreed with-and for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. He was admired by the Christian and Chinese minorities for his willingness to do so. One of his first acts as president was to participate in prayers at a Hindu temple in Bali where he had earlier spent several months studying Hindu philosophy. Later he removed a number of restrictions on ethnic Chinese and made Chinese New
Year an optional national holiday.

Even after leaving office, Wahid’s role as a defender of religious freedom was extremely important. Indonesian voters have rejected
extremist politics at the polls-and the leadership of the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono deserves much credit for that. Nevertheless, extremist views and even violent extremism too often go unchallenged. A recent report from The Wahid Insitute (which he founded in 2004) notes that a minority with extremist views, now in control of the Indonesian Ulama Council, has issued religious rulings against “deviant” groups. An even smaller minority that espouses violence, particularly the Islamic Defender Front, has attacked Christian churches and the mosques of the small Muslim Ahmadiyah sect.

Wahid was one of the few prominent Indonesians to defend the rights of the Ahmadiyah or to speak out forcefully against the Islamic Defender Front. Doing so takes courage. But he was always courageous, whether in defying President Suharto at the height of his power or in his personal struggle against encroaching blindness and failing health.

Although optimistic that “true Islam” will prevail, as he wrote in his 2005 op-ed, Wahid did not underestimate the dangers facing the world from an “extreme . . . ideology in the minds of fanatics” who “pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed” and who justify their brutality by declaring “Islam is above everything else.” This fundamentalist ideology, he said, “has become a well-financed, multifaceted global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of
the developing world.” What begins as a misunderstanding “of Islam by Muslims themselves” becomes a “crisis of misunderstanding” that afflicts
“Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with tragic consequences.”

No one who knew Abdurrahman Wahid can believe that those fanatics who preach hatred and violence speak for the world’s Muslims. Even though the extremist ideology represents a distinct minority of Muslims, it is well-financed and well-organized. To confront it, Muslim leaders like himself need, as he wrote in 2005, “the understanding and support of like-minded individuals, organizations and governments throughout the world . . . to offer a compelling alternate vision of Islam, one that
banishes the fanatical ideology of hatred to the darkness from which it emerged.”

That support includes material support, but it also includes the moral support that comes from international recognition and attention for Muslim leaders who speak out with the courage that Wahid did.

When Wahid was only 12 he was riding in a car with his father, Wahid Hasyim, himself a prominent Muslim leader at the time of Indonesian
independence, when the car slid off a mountain road and his father suffered fatal injuries. What Wahid most remembered from that tragic event was the sight of thousands of people lining the roads as his
father’s casket traveled the 80 kilometers from Surabaya to his burial at Jombang. Overwhelmed by the affection people had for his father, he
wondered “What could one man do that the people would love him so?”

As the funeral procession for Wahid himself traveled the same route on the last day of 2009, thousands of mourners, deeply moved, again lined
the road. What had he done that Indonesians so loved him? Perhaps the question is answered by the words that he asked to have on his tomb: “Here lies a humanist.” That he was and a great one as well. No one can replace him, but hopefully he has inspired others to follow in his path.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and assistant
secretary of state for East Asia, is a visiting scholar at the American
Enterprise Institute.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A17