Forced Religious Conversions: Babri Masjid Action Committee’s Provocation Misplaced and Suicidal

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

15 Dec 2014

All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) which remained out of action for years has come alive with a new avatar. A violent one. Last year, its co-founder Zafaryab Jilani had appealed to Muslims to observe 6th December peacefully. However, recently, the BMAC has widened its agenda and included other Muslim issues like religious conversions into its fold.

Members of a Hindu organisation performed a ceremony for the conversion of Muslim families in Agra earlier this week

After 60 utterly destitute Muslim families of rag-pickers were converted in Ved Nagar slums of Agra, Muslim and secular organizations had condemned the incident of forced conversions by Hindutva forces and the district administration is trying to take legal action against a leader of the Bajrang Dal who has gone underground. Converted Muslims later asserted that they did not convert but had been fooled. They also offered the succeeding Friday prayers. This was the logical conclusion of an incident and Muslims should have taken the legal route for the remedy of their concerns and problems.

However, the hitherto dead BMAC swung into action. First it held a protest rally in Agra and then in Moradabad. In Moradabad meeting organized by BMAC, its President Salim Ahmad delivered a fiery speech that violated the norms and were unbecoming of any true Muslim organization. Mr. Salim Ahmad was carried away by emotions and issued threats to both the PM (Narendra Modi) and the CM (Akhilesh Yadav) that if the conversions were not stopped, they will be harmed. According to news reports, he threatened to raise an army of Muslims and attack both the UP Vidhan Sabha and the Parliament and teach the MPs and MLAs a lesson. He also claimed that he can acquire all kinds of arms and ammunition and so the Muslims should not be forced to unite. If it happens, he warned, no one will be spared.

According to a report in Mail Today (14 December 2014) which was reproduced by Urdu dailies, Sahafat and Roznama Khabrein, BMAC President Salim Ahmad threatened to raise an army of Muslims and attack both the UP Vidhan Sabha and the Parliament and teach the MPs and MLAs a lesson. He also claimed that he can acquire all kinds of arms and ammunition and so the Muslims should not be forced to unite. If it happens, he warned, no one will be spared.

Apart from its legal consequences, as the district administration is contemplating action against the cleric, the threats have raised doubts about the real motives of the BMAC as it has passed onto irresponsible hands. BMAC was formed in 1986 with a view to fight the legal battle to restore the Babri Mosque and not to raise an army of Muslims to attack the state assemblies and the Parliament and kill the chief minister and the Prime Minister on the issue of forced conversions.

The aggressive and anti-Constitutional statements of the BMAC President, many Muslims fear, will give the Hindutva forces a greater leverage to mobilize support of even secular minded Hindus and will only sharpen the divide between the two communities.

It is also a matter of concern that the co-founder of BMAC, Mr. Zafaryab Jilani has not condemned the statements. His silence in this matter will be construed as his support to the stance taken by the cleric. The BMAC had been established for the cause of Babri Masjid alone but other leaders like Mushtaq Ahmad or Salim Ahmad seem to have taken the organization hostage and are using it to get political mileage and a say in the political process at the cost of peace and harmony. These leaders are pushing the community into another communal cauldron.

Of late Zafaryab Jilani has tried to present himself as a national Muslim leader. He has recently placed a proposal before the receiver of Ramjanambhoomi to allow Muslims to offer prayers at Babri Mosque and if that is not done, Muslims should at least be allowed to place a prayer mat and rosary at the site of the mosque to show that the mosque still exists.

Tha Allahabad High Court in its judgment gave one third of the dispute site to Muslims to build a mosque and the judgment has been challenged at the Supreme Court. Since the matter is subjudice, the proposal of the BMAC only points to political activism on part of the BMAC or Zafaryab Jilani.

Conspiracy theorists claim with their usual certainty that Zafaryab Jilani and his BMAC has been instigated by RSS-affiliated organisations themselves to help further their divisive agenda of polarisation to help BJP win the UP state Assembly elections. There is also speculation that BMAC is merely trying to replace the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) as the sole spokesman of the Muslim community.

Babri Masjid Action Committee president Salim Ahmed delivers an alleged hate speech in Moradabad on Friday

BMAC has been inactive for a long time, since it helped the Sangh Pariwar in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, to be precise, and in its new avatar, it is indulging in anti national activities issuing threats to constitutional heads of the country on the one hand and to the common masses on the other driving a wedge between the communities and prove suicidal to the Muslim community. The sooner BMAC mends its ways the better in the interests of the community and the country.


Who Is A Muslim? An Intense Struggle within the Muslim World for the Soul of Islam  

By Dr Abdul Cader Asmal for New Age Islam

15 Dec 2014

Well before Cheryl Bernard concocted her whimsical compartmentalization of Muslims into arbitrary categories (1), and Nathan Lean cautioned Muslims not to be defined by non-Muslims (2), there was and is an intense struggle within the Muslim world for the soul of Islam.

This review attempts to analyze the claims of the various sects and movements within Islam, to find the common denominators that bind them together, to identify the conflicting views that tear them asunder, to acknowledge the heinous acts that cast them outside the pale of Islam, and to end up hopefully with a definition of who really is a Muslim!

A Muslim is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic religion that is the complete universal and final version of a faith that has been revealed through many prophets including Abraham, Moses, Ishmael, Isaac, Jesus and finally Mohammed.

“Muslim” is an Arabic word meaning ‘one who submits to God’.  Muslims believe that God is eternal, transcendent, and absolutely One. God is incomparable, self-sustaining and neither begets nor is begotten and He is gender neutral. God revealed His final revelation to mankind through the Quran which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God that he passed on to prophet Mohammed (PBOH).

To become a Muslim, one simply has to pronounce the Declaration of Faith, ‘There is no god but God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God’.

The Amman Message: In an attempt to define the common denominator across all Muslim sects The Amman Message (3) issued the following consensus statement,

“All Muslims believe in Allah (God), Glorified and Exalted be He, the One and the Unique; that the Noble Quran is the Revealed Word of God; and that Mohammed, may blessings and peace be upon him, is a Prophet and Messenger unto all Mankind. All are in agreement about the five pillars of Islam: the two testaments of faith; the ritual prayer (Salat), almsgiving (Zakat), fasting in the month of Ramadan (Sawm), and the pilgrimage or Hajj to the sacred house of Allah in Mecca. All are also in agreement about the foundations of belief or creed (Aqida): belief in Allah (God), His angels, His Scriptures, His Messengers, and in the Day of Judgment, in Divine Providence in good and in evil”.

Notwithstanding these clear guidelines there are fundamental differences in the interpretation of Islam by divisive sects who have emerged over the centuries. In an attempt to focus on diversity within the Unity of Islam, The Amman Message, noted,

” There exists more in common between the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence than there is difference between them. The adherents to the eight schools of Islamic jurisprudence are in agreement as regards the basic principles of Islam.

“Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (Mathahib) of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanbali), the two Shi’i schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Ja`fari and Zaydi), the Ibadi school of Islamic jurisprudence and the Thahiri (Zahiri) school of Islamic jurisprudence, is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible and impermissible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are inviolable. Moreover, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash`ari creed or whoever practices real Tasawwuf (Sufism) an apostate. Likewise, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate.

Equally, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in God, Glorified and Exalted be He, and His Messenger (may peace and blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and acknowledges the five pillars of Islam, and does not deny any necessarily self-evident tenet of religion.”(3). The Message concluded with the statement, “Disagreement with respect to the ancillary branches of religion (furu`) is a mercy. Long ago it was said that variance in opinion among the ‘Ulema (scholars) “is a good affair”.

The Amman Message represented a visionary and valiant bid to develop within the Muslim world, struggling to define itself, a semblance of consensus. It, however, failed to address some of the more controversial issues, as well as the ‘hot button’ topics that generate so much intolerance and violence in the name of Islam. In its inclusiveness it failed to acknowledge two of the larger Islamic creeds, namely the Ashari and the Maturidi Aqida. Thus it is fine to make the blanket statement that any Muslim who subscribes to the designations noted above, including the two schools omitted, should not be defined as an apostate. But yet this is what exactly happens!

It is the spontaneous combustion of rival elitist groups claiming the mantle of correctness while vilifying others that leads to the internecine self-destructiveness that we see within the Muslim world today. In order to make sense of the artificial compartmentalization of Muslims into a panoply of unrecognizable entities (‘secular’, ‘liberal’, ‘modernist’, ’progressive’, ‘conservative’, ‘orthodox’, ‘traditional’, ‘puritanical’, intolerant’,’ fundamentalist’, ‘radical’ ‘fanatical’, ‘extremist’, ‘jihadi’, ‘heretical’ and off course ‘moderate’ or ‘mainstream’) it behooves us to examine the distinguishing features of some of the wide spectrum of self-defined sects and movements that not infrequently lead to a charge of one group by another of deviation if not apostasy, a designation that is automatically loaded with a death penalty.

For a practicing Muslim any of the following situations will cast him/her into the realm of apostasy or disbelief. Clearly any individual who knowingly renounces Islam is an apostate. Equally, the disbelief in or denial of any of the articles of Faith and the Five Pillars would lead to a state of apostasy as for example denying any of the Books of Revelation or the Prophets of God. Thirdly, adopting practices that have been clearly prohibited by Islam in the name of Islam would also be grounds for the declaration of apostasy e.g. the deliberate consumption of alcohol, fornication, or the killing of innocent humans as though sanctioned by Islam. Some legal scholars have declared that rejection of the co-eternal existence of God and the Quran is also an act of apostasy. Areas of dispute among different schools of thought that fall into a gray area as to whether they constitute apostasy or not, or ‘just’ innovation or deviation, include some of the following:  Whether God will be seen in this life: God said to Moses, ’You will not see me’ Quran (7:143); whether the anthropomorphic attributes of God are purely metaphorical or literal is a source of debate. God says, “There is naught like unto Him” (Quran, 42: 11). The question whether Iman or belief or piety or Taqwa increases and decreases is contested? The questions relating to prophet Mohammed (PBUH): Is Mohammed made of light and not clay? Is he alive in the grave? Does God keep Him informed of current and future events? Is it appropriate to pray to him to act as an intercessor? Is it appropriate to celebrate his birthday and that of other saints? Some of the questions in the gray area arouse the greatest degree of hostility amongst the various sects, and frequently generate charges of either innovation deviation or apostasy.

The key players in the Islam of today had been identified by the beginning of the 10th century. What has evolved since then has been a further fragmentation of the previous sects into smaller exclusive subsets and a quest for exclusiveness within the 73 predicted divisions of Islam! Apart from the almost knee-jerk reaction of some Sunni Muslim rejecting the legitimacy of Shi’ism, and questioning the authenticity of Sufism, there is an equally problematic reaction within Sunni Islam itself. This revolves around the question as to what sect or movement within Sunni Islam is the ‘authentic’ version of Islam and constitutes the elusive ‘Ahle Sunnat Wal Jama’at’.

According to some authorities Ahl al-Sunna consist of three groups: the textualists (al-Athariyya), whose Imam is Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the Ash`aris, whose Imam is Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari, and the Maturidis, whose Imam is Abu Mansur al-Maturidi and they include all four of the accepted schools of Islamic jurisprudence. But this is just the beginning of an internecine diatribe in which competing groups put down one another in an etiquette that totally contravenes Islamic norms of discourse. This is a topic saturated with contradictions and counter-claims and toxic with antipathy toward fellow Muslims (4-10).

The important issues such futile, vitriolic and counterproductive debates raise are several:  can the Muslim Ummah afford the luxury of squandering its resources on such behavior when it faces far greater challenges from both within and without? From without is the incessant barrage of negative portrayal of Islam by Islamophobes who make a living out of demonizing our religion. At the same time there are increasing numbers of non-Muslim groups who are persecuting Muslims with little response from the non-Muslim world and even less from so-called Muslims. The persecution and near genocide of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and of Muslims in the Central African Republic immediately come to mind. The enormity of the fratricidal depredation in Iraq and Syria defies all description. By their invectives hurled at one another not only do these Muslim demagogues fail to address the problem of Islamophobia or that of the victimization of Muslims, or the torment of the innocents of all backgrounds, but also serve to turn off the young, as well as the would-be Muslims. They fail abysmally to address the real issues confronting the Muslim Ummah summarized here 😦 11).

“The challenges facing the Ummah are no longer about the misinterpretation of Allah’s Names and Attributes or the validity of celebrating the Mawlid. No doubt, some people, at some level, do need to discuss the reality of the Mawlid, and the Attributes of Allah and other aspects of faith. But these are not the problems of our time, nor do they present major challenges to the faith of our young men and women. These are controversies of a bygone era: the Salafīs and the Ashʿarīs can go on debating such aspects amongst themselves. But the vast majority of our youth couldn’t care less about such abstract non-tangible theoretical discussions.

“They are struggling to retain faith in their religion, problematising Darwinism and secularism and post-modernism and humanism and liberalism and a thousand other ‘isms’, while Salafīs (and Deobandis, and Ashʿarīs, and Sufīs) still debate in their circles matters that only concern the 0.1 %. Islam is witnessing unprecedented ideological attacks from radical secularism; these attacks seek to render Islam in particular – and religiosity in general – anathema to modern society. Modern culture reeks of materialism, hedonism, pornography, and sexual exploitation. Age-old social ills that Islam came to eradicate continue to plague the ‘Muslim world’. Societal problems are rampant, domestic and sexual abuse, violation of worker’s rights, racism, bribery, and so forth are becoming increasing prevalent, yet, almost all of these issues are sidelined. It is inexcusable for jurists to passionately propagate their personal opinions on the prohibition of women driving, or incessantly criticize the celebration of the Mawlid, for instance, all the while sidelining the widespread and endemic problems. Any Islam that does not concern itself with the rights of the oppressed and downtrodden is far from the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (PBOH), whose very last words urged us to fulfil the rights of the weakest members of society.” (11)

The consequence of such spurious debates is the branding of rival sects as ‘innovators’ or worse still as apostates. This may have one of several negative effects: firstly, as noted above, Muslim intellectual resources are squandered in futile exercises, while the Islamophobes as well as the real global challenges that Muslims face are ignored; secondly, those defined as apostates from the religion are made vulnerable to discrimination and persecution and random acts of violence, even murder; thirdly the arrogation of the right to designate a group of Muslims as apostates by a cabal with its own heretic interpretation of Islam, is accompanied by a self-proclaimed license to slaughter such innocent Muslims with total impunity. This notion is the basis of the slaughter of Shia communities in many areas of the current conflicts and had also led to the killing of Qadianis and of the Bahias in the past. Clearly in the minds of those seething with hate, if they can ‘justify’ the killing of innocent Muslims who they view as ‘disbelievers’ what makes the Christian and Jews any less of disbelievers! Thus, the ‘Takfiris’, or those who brand others as apostates, have no reason not to exterminate all those (Muslim or Non-Muslim) who disagree with their diabolical world view of Islam!

Many of the issues causing discord within the global Muslim community have been prevalent for centuries, and will need the coming together of rational beings from the wide spectrum of opinions (Sunni, Shia Sufi and the many self-destructive sects within Sunni Islam) with mutual respect and a genuine concern to resolve the stress lines. Intra-Muslim Dialogue in which diverse views are expressed in an open civil forum may be employed to resolve some of the less controversial and provocative issues so that either a consensus is reached or the discussants depart agreeing to disagree without being disagreeable (12).

Much more pressing is the need for these various sects and movements to come together and resolve the issue of the mindless carnage of innocent civilians in the name of Islam. On this there can be no disagreement as such acts are totally antithetical to the fundamental principles of Islam. Despite their claims to find justification for their actions as a response to the malfeasance (whether real or imagined)in all its form unleashed by the so-called West against the Muslim world, be it as mere humiliation (The Rushdie affair, the cartoon caper or the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal, or the sensationalist public depiction of the execution of 3 Muslim figureheads, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and Osama Bin Laden, no matter how unsavoury they may have appeared to most observers in the West and to many in the Muslim world); the exploitation of Muslim resources, or occupation of their lands, or propping up of servile Muslim dictators; the permissive extermination of Muslims in Bosnia, Chechnya and Kosovo, and now Burma; or the unending atrocities committed in the endless so-called ‘war-on-terror’, Islam does not permit vicarious retribution. This is reflected in the near universal condemnations of the barbarity, initially by Al-Qaida and now by Isis, Boko Haram and Al-Shabab. (13, 14)

Recognizing the difficulty in branding any Muslim or Muslim group as apostate or heretic (Takfir), but also acknowledging that those who regularly brand others who disagree with their heretical views on Islam as apostates, should not the accredited Islamic scholars from the diverse sects come together to denounce the real heretics for who they are? This is a daunting process because of the following admonition, warning against the targeting of any Muslim with such an odious depiction: The Prophet had this to say on the subject, ‘Whoever charges a believer with unbelief is as though he had killed him’, Bukhari 8.32:6105: and, ‘Any man who says, “O’ Kafir” to his brother, one of them deserves the name” (Bukhari, 8.32: 6104.).It is difficult to think of a direr warning, and its purpose is clearly to dissuade Muslims of religion and good sense from judging anyone who professes Islam to be an unbeliever unless there is irrefutable proof.

In the case of so-called Muslims deliberately targeting innocent Muslims and non-Muslims whether directly in the name of Islam, or what is tantamount to it, is there any justification for not condemning their acts as heretical and therefore outside the pale of Islam? Ordinary individuals without the proper credentials cannot make this judgment. It requires a fatwa by a consensus of religious scholars and judges to arrive at this verdict. Only a public denunciation and excommunication of those who promote such mindless acts as heretics if not apostates would be able to stem the tide of ignorant, disenchanted misguided Muslim youth from seeking glamour in martyrdom. Such impressionable brainwashed losers in life (in this and the Hereafter) need to understand in clear unequivocal language that the killing of innocents has only one destination – and that is hell. While James Brandon agrees that Takfirism is the ‘root and enabler of all modern Jihadism’ he argues that it would be counterproductive for Muslims to denounce Isis as ‘not Muslim’ (15).

This conclusion sounds somewhat counterintuitive. Certainly such a position should not be adopted as a means to ingratiate the ‘Muslim world’ with the so-called ‘West’. It should be done out of a sense of deep conviction by Muslims, based on Quranic injunctions that make it an imperative: ‘O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, 4: 135; and, ’God does not change the condition of a people until they first change what is in their hearts’, 13:11’. These statements make it very clear for Muslims to judge between what is right and what is wrong and how to act upon the decision. As it is not possible to subscribe to the view propagated by Al Qaeda and Isis and other proponents of ‘Binladenism’ (16) that Islam ordains or condones the slaughter of innocent people as part of its value system, and if such a perspective is perceived as not only un-Islamic but also anti-Islamic (17) then one is compelled (to be just to one’s self) to repudiate those views and ostracize such persons, and pray that with such cleansing God will guide all the Muslims who have truly expressed what is in their hearts onto the ‘Straight Path’.

Such a declaration is not, as previously noted, to pander to the dictates of the ‘West’ but to detoxify Islam of the heresy of Binladenism that has envenomed its doctrine. Unless the heresy is recognized as such and expunged from Islamic theology (18) it will continue to generate irremediable harm in countless of young impressionable minds led to believe that the killing of innocents is an act of true ‘jihad’ and a portal to martyrdom. Generations of Muslims will be doomed to purgatory. And those who remain silent in the presence of known evil may have to explain their inaction on the Day of Judgment. Whereas, if exposed the heresy will be recognized for what it is: that terror is no part of, and can never be a part of jihad, but it is a passport directly to hell. In invoking a declaration of heresy if not apostasy it is purely with the intent of exposing an evil deviation with no intention of exacting any form of punishment for the ‘heretics’ or ‘apostates’. That is for God and only God to decide.

This brings us back to the question. Who then is a Muslim? Muslims thus have a choice: they can allow themselves to be defined by the whims and prejudices of outsiders who have little interest in their welfare; or they can remain as microscopic obscurantists clinging to their self-styled identification as multiple brands of Sunni or Shia or Sufi Muslims, or revert to the original designation employed at the time of the Prophet (PBOH) as ‘simply’ Muslim (19). In an otherwise superb article in which he highlights the attributes of a Muslim, the respected author Asghar Ali Engineer (20), assigns these traits to those whom he categorizes as ‘progressive’ Muslims. In fact what he attributes to a ‘progressive’ Muslim should be the very same qualities expressed by all Muslims!  As a caveat it may be added that a Muslim is a person , who when he meets a friend or stranger, instead of saying’ good morning’, ‘hi’, ‘hello’ or ‘what’s up’, greets him with the words, ‘peace unto you’. If Muslims can replace the salutations in current use with this sentiment, they will be at the vanguard of a defining moment in their history.


  1. Cheryl Bernard CIVIL DEMOCRATIC ISLAM   2003, Rand Publication
  2. Nathan Lean: 2012, Heritage Foundation.
  3. The Amman Message: The Role of Consensus in Contemporary Struggle for Islam 2006
  4. Meaning of Ahl us Sunnah Wal Jama’at
  5. Zubair Qamar:
  6. Wahhabism Exposed:
  7. CIF International
  8. Answering Wahhabism and Salafism
  9. Halverson, Jeffry R. (2010). Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam
  11. Yasir Qadhi: On Islam: On Salafi Islam 9/2/14
  12. A.C. Asmal: Intra-Muslim Dialogue: Islamic Council of New England: Archives
  13. On Islam: 9/2/2014: four articles denounce the actions of ISIL: World Muslims Deplore Journalist Beheading; Sunni Rebels, Scholars Reject ISIL Caliphate; ISIL Enemy No 1 of Islam: Saudi Grand Mufti; World Scholars: ISIL Caliphate Is Null and Void
  14. Sheila Musa Ji: The American Muslim: Vast compilation of information: Muslim Voices against Extremism and Terrorism.
  15. James Brandon: http//: www By Denouncing ISIS as ‘Not Muslims’, Moderate Muslims Risk Making Things worse’,
  16. A.C. Asmal: International Herald Tribune, 8/4/2005, Terrorism is not Islamic
  17. Nihad Awad CAIR: Isis is not just un-Islamic, it is anti-Islamic
  18. A.C Asmal. The American Muslim, 10/11/2012, Binladenism: the Heresy that must be expunged
  19. Khalid Zaheer:
  20. Asghar Ali Engineer. Who is a progressive Muslim? The American Muslim 11/18/2011.

Abdul Cader Asmal  MD PhD   ( Former President of the Islamic Center of Boston and Islamic Council of New England; current Co-chairman of Communications, Islamic Council of New England). He wrote this piece exclusively for New Age Islam.


Misuse Of Mosques For Politics: Shahi Imam calls for Love Jihad in Friday Sermon; ‘convert them and marry them, this is the only reply to attempts at forcible conversion of Muslims to Hinduism’

Misuse Of Mosques For Politics: Shahi Imam calls for Love Jihad in Friday Sermon; ‘convert them and marry them, this is the only reply to attempts at forcible conversion of Muslims to Hinduism’

By New Age Islam Special Correspondent

12 December 2014

Shahi Imam Ahmad Bukhari of Jama Masjid, Delhi

Misuse of mosques for politics has reached its peak. In an incendiary speech from the Jama Masjid, Delhi its imam called Muslims to engage in love jihad as the only suitable response to attempts by Hindutva forces to convert 200 Muslims in Agra on 8 December and the announcement that thousands more will be converted in Aligarh on 25th December.

“Convert them and marry them. This is the only suitable response to attempts at converting Muslims to Hinduism,” he told thousands of Muslims listening to his speech within the mosque and outside.

In his 41-minute political speech, descending at times to the language of the gutter, he announced, amidst chants of Allahu Akbar (God is Great!), the Muslims will never accept a second class citizenship status in this country and will keep fighting for their rights, despite the thousands of riots, including the one Muslims will never forget, the one that happened in Gujarat in 2002.

He said Islam did not spread with the use of sword or compulsion. Muslims do not believe in forcible conversion. He quoted the Qur’anic verse “la ikraha fid deen” which means “there can be no compulsion in religion.” He cited this as a proof that Muslims rulers of India did not force Hindus to convert, otherwise, he said there would not have been one Hindu left in this country.

Recalling all the myriad communal statements made by BJP and other RSS-affiliated organisations since the last elections that brought BJP to power, the Shahi Imam said these people were rewarded with cabinet posts in the central government. In this context he patted his own back for not having invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his son’s anointment as the next chief cleric. Using language utterly becoming of any civilised discourse, much less a mosque, which Muslims consider their spiritual refuge, he said, people who criticised him for this non-invitation to Modi on television channels and elsewhere were either prostitutes or those who use their wives for prostitution. He said:”one doesn’t know where these women or the wives of these gentlemen spend their days and nights!”

The Imam talked about the enormous pressure that was brought upon him to invite Narendra Modi. But he withstood all that pressure and congratulated himself for that amidst chants of Allahu Akbar from his acolytes within the mosque, while the rest of the crowd, most of whom had just come for Friday prayers, remained impassive throughout his theatrics.

Of course, none of the thousands of  Muslims present there protested at this misuse of the mosque, and one can rest assured that no Muslim intellectual or leader  will protest.

He criticised heavily the so-called secular political parties who make use of Muslims as vote banks and then abandon them when they come to power. Citing the example of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh where these conversion attempts are taking place, he said there are 18-20 per cent Muslims in UP and only 7 per cent Yadavs. Clearly it’s Muslims who brought him to power but when the issue of forcible conversion was discussed in Parliament, Mulayam Singh Yadav said that this was not such an important issue as nothing was happening in Agra and Muslims had not shown any signs of agitation. We have not forgotten the hundreds of Muslims killed in Muzaffarnagar in UP under the same government of Akhilesh Yadav and Mulayam Singh. He warned them that Muslims will never tolerate any further attempts at forcible conversion or other atrocities in UP and without their support they will not be able to come back to power.

The Imam was full of praise, however, for the electronic media, particularly Times Now whose anchor Arnab Goswami had given munhtor jawab (appropriate reply) to the spokesmen of Hindutva parties on his show on 11th of December.

He said this country is secular because the majority of people are secular.  Only 31 per cent voters have supported the saffron alliance. He repeatedly invoked the rights given to minorities by the constitution of India. He said the country is moving in the direction of another partition. The present-day situation is beginning to resemble the situation in 1947. But Muslims have to work to save this country from another partition. It’s our duty. Muslims had made untold sacrifices for the independence of this country and it’s time we geared up to make another effort to save the country from another division, he said.


How ISIS Drives Muslims from Islam

By Thomas L. Friedman

December 6, 2014

THE Islamic State has visibly attracted young Muslims from all over the world to its violent movement to build a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. But here’s what’s less visible — the online backlash against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by young Muslims declaring their opposition to rule by Islamic law, or Shariah, and even proudly avowing their atheism. Nadia Oweidat, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, who tracks how Arab youths use the Internet, says the phenomenon “is mushrooming — the brutality of the Islamic State is exacerbating the issue and even pushing some young Muslims away from Islam.”

On Nov. 24, published a piece on what was trending on Twitter. It began: “A growing social media conversation in Arabic is calling for the implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law, to be abandoned. Discussing religious law is a sensitive topic in many Muslim countries. But on Twitter, a hashtag which translates as ‘why we reject implementing Shariah’ has been used 5,000 times in 24 hours. The conversation is mainly taking place in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The debate is about whether religious law is suitable for the needs of Arab countries and modern legal systems. Dr. Alyaa Gad, an Egyptian doctor living in Switzerland, started the hashtag. ‘I have nothing against religion,’ she tells BBC Trending, but says she is against ‘using it as a political system.’ ”

The BBC added that “many others joined in the conversation, using the hashtag, listing reasons why Arabs and Muslims should abandon Shariah. ‘Because there’s not a single positive example of it bringing justice and equality,’ one man tweeted. … A Saudi woman commented: ‘By adhering to Shariah we are adhering to inhumane laws. Saudi Arabia is saturated with the blood of those executed by Sharia.’ ”

Ismail Mohamed, an Egyptian on a mission to create freedom of conscience there, started a program called “Black Ducks” to offer a space where agnostic and atheist Arabs can speak freely about their right to choose what they believe and resist coercion and misogyny from religious authorities. He is part of a growing Arab Atheists Network. For Arab news written by Arabs that gets right in the face of autocrats and religious extremists also check out

Another voice getting attention is Brother Rachid, a Moroccan who created his own YouTube network to deliver his message of tolerance and to expose examples of intolerance within his former Muslim faith community. (He told me he’s converted to Christianity, preferring its “God of love.”)

In this recent segment on YouTube, which has been viewed 500,000 times, Brother Rachid addressed President Obama:

“Dear Mr. President, I must tell you that you are wrong about ISIL. You said ISIL speaks for no religion. I am a former Muslim. My dad is an Imam. I have spent more than 20 years studying Islam. … I can tell you with confidence that ISIL speaks for Islam. … ISIL’s 10,000 members are all Muslims. … They come from different countries and have one common denominator: Islam. They are following Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in every detail. … They have called for a caliphate, which is a central doctrine in Sunni Islam.”

He continued: “I ask you, Mr. President, to stop being politically correct — to call things by their names. ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab in Somalia, the Taliban, and their sister brand names, are all made in Islam. Unless the Muslim world deals with Islam and separates religion from state, we will never end this cycle. … If Islam is not the problem, then why is it there are millions of Christians in the Middle East and yet none of them has ever blown up himself to become a martyr, even though they live under the same economic and political circumstances and even worse? … Mr. President, if you really want to fight terrorism, then fight it at the roots. How many Saudi sheikhs are preaching hatred? How many Islamic channels are indoctrinating people and teaching them violence from the Quran and the hadith? … How many Islamic schools are producing generations of teachers and students who believe in jihad and martyrdom and fighting the infidels?”

ISIS, by claiming to speak for all Muslims — and by promoting a puritanical form of Islam that takes present-day, Saudi-funded, madrasa indoctrination to its logical political conclusion — has blown the lid off some long simmering frustrations in the Arab Muslim world.

As an outsider, I can’t say how widespread this is. But clearly there is a significant group of Muslims who feel that their government-backed preachers and religious hierarchies have handed them a brand of Islam that does not speak to them. These same authorities have also denied them the critical thinking tools and religious space to imagine new interpretations. So a few, like Brother Rachid, leave Islam for a different faith and invite others to come along. And some seem to be quietly detaching from religion entirely — fed up with being patronized by politically correct Westerners telling them what Islam is not and with being tyrannized by self-appointed Islamist authoritarians telling them what Islam is. Now that the Internet has created free, safe, alternative spaces and platforms to discuss these issues, outside the mosques and government-owned media, this war of ideas is on.



No Secularism or Democracy without Religious Freedom

No Secularism or Democracy without Religious Freedom

By Şahin Alpay

November 30, 2014

On a recent flight I engaged in a conversation with a gentleman sitting next to me. First we agreed and complained that, setting aside the periods of direct military rule, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government had proved to be the most authoritarian and corrupt of them all. Later the gentleman gently said: “However, dear Mr. Alpay, it was clear from the beginning that the AKP had a hidden agenda. But pundits like yourself conveyed a highly positive picture of the AKP government both at home and abroad. You have a responsibility in the situation we find ourselves today.”

He had a point to a certain extent. I personally refused to call the AKP the AK Party (as ak means “clean” in Turkish), arguing that the party had to first prove it was clean and free of corruption. I never voted for the AKP in a general election. I criticized the media, energy and environmental policies of the AKP government and the inconsistencies in its policy towards the Kurds. But I did generally lend support to the AKP government in its first two terms in power, because the economy was improving, the political role of the military was being curbed, official denial of even the existence of Kurds had come to an end, there were efforts toward meeting the demands of religious minorities, restrictions on religious rights seemed to be gradually lifting, and I highly approved of the “zero problems with neighbours” foreign policy. The AKP government in its third term in power has, however, entirely reversed its policies, and is engaged in setting up the most authoritarian civilian rule this country has ever seen. Out of the same liberal democratic principles that caused me to support it in its first two terms of power, I am, since early 2011, increasingly critical of the direction the AKP is leading the country in.

Public commentators like myself may indeed have a certain responsibility in the situation we are faced with today. But it is the kind of democracy that prevailed throughout the latter half of the past century, where the reins of power were in the hands of a civilian and military bureaucracy committed to Kemalism, Turkey’s brand of authoritarian secular nationalism, which is the main reason behind the coming to power of the post-Islamist AKP in 2002 and its expanding share of the vote ever since. It is the continued military interventions in politics, the official denial of even the existence of Kurds, restrictions on religious rights, and mismanagement of the economy by the centre right and left politicians who have never taken a stand against the military’s political role that is the main explanation for the electoral victories of the AKP. It is the widespread fears that there will be a return to a full-fledged Kemalist authoritarianism once it loses power that keeps the AKP winning.

Whatever be the reasons for the dominance of the AKP in Turkish politics today, the fact remains that the country is confronted with the most authoritarian civilian government ever. What is more worrying are the recent signs that the AKP government, faced with grave corruption allegations, is now trying to build a political alliance with the Kemalist military to fortify its power. There are reports that the National Security Council (MGK), which brings together civilian and military leaders, has agreed in its first meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that the witch hunt against the faith-based Hizmet movement inspired by religious scholar Fethullah Gülen is to be expanded to include all Muslim religious groups with different convictions, declaring them to be “illegal structures with a legal appearance,” a concept which surely has no place in the rule of law. The pro-government media has reported that the National Police Department, in preparation for a purge in the ranks, has profiled the religious identities of 180,000 police officers and established that 41,000 of them are affiliated with Hizmet.

A country where citizens, in clear violation of its constitution, are profiled, discriminated against, subjected to a witch hunt, and collectively punished due to their religious beliefs can be considered neither secular nor democratic. This is where Kemalist Turkey finds itself in its 91st year of being founded.



Iran’s Unresolved Conflict between Reformers and Fundamentalists  


By Farhang Jahanpour

11 November 2014

Either the Islamic Republic wishes to remain in its fundamentalist cocoon and alienate more educated, westward-looking young Iranians, as well as be regarded as a pariah by the international community, or it wishes to join the modern world

As we get close to the November 24 deadline for a comprehensive nuclear deal to be reached between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), another conflict has been raging in Iran between the moderates and the hardliners, a contest that could be regarded as a culture war between two different ideologies and two different versions of Islam. Thirty-five years after the start of the Islamic revolution in Iran, the conflict between the two camps has not yet been resolved. If anything, once more, it has taken centre stage and its resolution can affect the future direction of Iran as much as can the nuclear deal with the west.

The recent spate of acid attacks on women allegedly not fully observing the hijab, and jailing a 26-year old British-Iranian woman for a year for trying to attend a volleyball game (women are not allowed to be spectators in any games alongside men, it is claimed on account of the use of foul language at such gatherings), the Iranian Parliament’s rejection of four of President Hassan Rouhani’s nominees as science and higher education ministers at the behest of the hardliners eager to control the universities and their curricula, the increasing number of executions (according to Amnesty International, at least 369 people were executed in the Islamic Republic in 2013), draconian measures against journalists, discrimination against religious minorities, especially the Baha’is – all these are symptoms of the tug of war between the hardliners and the reformers.

The Roots of the Revolution

It is often forgotten that the movement against Mohammad Reza Shah’s 37-year rule from about 1975 onwards was mainly concerned with freedom, human rights, independence and social justice. In fact, people’s demands were summed up in the slogans chanted by the revolutionaries, “Freedom, Independence, Social Justice”, the last element of which was later changed to “Islamic Republic”.

By ‘freedom’, the revolutionaries meant freedom from arbitrary rule, freedom of expression, for genuine political parties, and freedom of assembly. To be fair, there existed a great many social freedoms under the Shah. Both men and women were allowed to dress in any way they liked. They could drink alcoholic beverages, make music, have fun, travel and engage in many other social activities. There were a number of political parties with a limited degree of political activity, tolerated as long as they did not oppose the Shah.

However, the Shah’s disastrous decision to abolish all other parties in favour of the Rastakhiz or Resurrection Party in 1975 meant that even the pretence of party politics came to an end. Trying to steal the clothes of the communists whom he regarded as his main opposition, the Shah declared that everybody had to be a member of the new party or leave the country. He even offered to pay the cost of their tickets to leave the country, not realising that many people wanted to reform their country, not to leave it. The Shah’s secret service SAVAK, which had spread its tentacles into every part of society striking fear into the hearts of many Iranians, especially young people, brutally enforced submission to the Shah’s rule.

The Rise of Islamist Groups

As the Shah only feared opposition from the leftist and communist parties (represented by the Mojahedin-e Khalq as Islamic Marxists, or the secular left represented by the pro-Moscow Tudeh Party and Fada’ian-e Khalq, Maoist parties and others), any political activity was severely curtailed; but, strangely enough, not only were religious gatherings not curtailed, on the contrary, they were encouraged as a bulwark against “ungodly communism”. As a result, people flocked to the mosques in their tens of thousands, including many with political motivations, and the mosques became hotbeds of dissent and opposition to the government.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, exiled from Iran in 1964 due to his opposition to the Shah’s so-called White Revolution (a set of progressive reforms launched in 1963 to form a modern society, including female suffrage, land reform, universal education, universal health insurance, etc.) continued preaching against the Shah from exile, first from Najaf in Iraq, and later on from Paris when he was expelled from Iraq by Saddam Hussein on the Shah’s request. Khomeini’s fiery speeches were distributed on cassettes through the mosques and the bazaars, and he became the figurehead for opposition to the government. From then on, the revolution assumed a religious direction, with the use of religious terminology popularised by pro-Khomeini clerics.

Khomeini as the Leader of the Revolution

After the Shah’s departure and Khomeini’s return to Iran, millions flocked to him as the symbol of resistance to the Shah, and he became the “leader of the revolution”. Having achieved the almost miraculous feat of unseating the Shah who had the fifth most powerful army in the world and enjoyed western support, the revolutionaries were not initially bothered about the direction in which Khomeini was taking them.

Shortly after Khomeini’s return to Iran some left-leaning lawyers prepared the draft of a progressive constitution, and in his zeal to achieve legitimacy for his revolution, Khomeini agreed to this document. However, some revolutionaries were keen to do things by the book, including Mehdi Bazargan, one of the non-clerical leaders of the revolution prior to Khomeini’s return, who insisted that a constituent assembly had to be formed to draw up a proper constitution.

This mistake played into Khomeini’s hands. Instead of a constituent assembly, Khomeini called for the election of an “Assembly of Experts” to write the constitution, and of course by experts he meant those who were experts in Islamic law or the Shari’a. As a result, the assembly that came into being was dominated by prominent clerics or ayatollahs, and the constitution that they prepared enshrined the concept of Velayat-e Faqih, or the guardianship of the leading clerics. Although initially many liberal and leftist groups had been prominent among the revolutionaries, soon Islamic groups took charge of the revolution.

After Khomeini’s return, religious and leftist forces clashed, as the result of which leftist forces were totally crushed and eliminated from the political scene. When radical Islamic students attacked the US Embassy and took American diplomats hostage, the leftists had no option but to condone that illegal act. By supporting the so-called Students Following the Line of the Imam who had attacked the US Embassy, Khomeini consolidated his position and marginalised the leftist groups.

The Iran-Iraq war that was launched by Saddam Hussein on 22 September 1998 and supported by the west due to the mistaken belief that it would weaken the revolution, further consolidated the clerics in power and put an end to all ideological debates in favour of unity against the foreign enemy.

Velayat-e Faqih

During his years of exile in Iraq, Khomeini had come up with the novel idea ofVelayat-e Faqih that had no precedent in Islamic theology or history, and after coming to power he placed that concept at the heart of the new republic. Consequently, the Islamic Republic became an oxymoron. Both the 1979 Islamic Constitution and its 1989 revision after Khomeini’s death were intensely undemocratic. On the one hand, the regime was Islamic with a cleric at the head, ruling as the Supreme Leader; while, on the other hand, it was supposed to be a republic, or a government chosen by the people. That dichotomy has continued ever since.

Contradictions at the Heart of the Islamic Republic

Right from the start, there has been an inherent contradiction at the heart of the Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic has all the appearance of a democratic state, but in reality everything is tightly controlled by the clerics, led by the Supreme Leader.

There are elections in the Islamic Republic for the Majlis or parliament, for the president, even for the members of the Assembly of Experts who are in charge of appointing the new Supreme Leader when the current one dies. But any candidate who stands for any of these posts must be approved by the Guardian Council, six of whose clerical members are directly appointed by the Supreme Leader, and the other six by the head of the Judiciary who is himself appointed by the Supreme Leader. The Majlis can pass legislation, but all its legislation has also to be approved by the Guardian Council who check their compatibility with the Shari’a and the constitution.

In addition to these powers, the Supreme Leader has a final say about the appointment of intelligence, foreign and interior ministers. He appoints the heads of the armed forces and the Revolutionary Guards and is the Commander in Chief of all the military forces. In order to ensure religious loyalty and enforce religious conformity, the Supreme Leader appoints all the Friday prayer imams throughout the country and these imams provide a direct link between the clerical establishment and the people in the remotest parts of the country.

The Supreme Leader can dismiss the parliament and can call upon it to change any legislation that he disapproves of. He can also call upon the president to dismiss a minister and to appoint someone that he approves of, and Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i made frequent use of that power under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which resulted in the president leaving his office in protest and staying at home for over two weeks due to Khamene’i’s opposition to his choice of intelligence minister. In short, in addition to acting as the spiritual head of the society, the Supreme Leader wields more extensive powers than the Shah could ever have dreamed of.

President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s Reforms

After Khomeini’s death in 1989, President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani started the reform process in Iran. His first priority was the reconstruction of the massive damage inflicted by the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, but he realised that this required capable technocrats and an opening up of Iran’s political and cultural scene. It was under him when the reformists first began to make their presence felt, and it is to his credit that he prepared the way for the election of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami in 1997.

Rafsanjani was also the first person after the revolution to speak of the importance of professionalism, a free economy and being more open to the west. It was Rafsanjani who ended the Lebanese hostage crisis in 1992 and also gave a one billion dollar oil contract to the American oil company Conoco. However, for those efforts he was rewarded by the United States – when Martin Indyk was serving as senior director of Near East and South Asian Affairs at the United States National Security Council – with the Dual Containment policy, which put an end to his opening up to the west.

 President Mohammad Khatami’s Reformist Government

With the election of President Mohammad Khatami the Reformist Movement was launched in earnest. Many reformist publications pushed the limits of free expression, including strong criticism of the revolution and its founder and the current Supreme Leader to new heights.

Religious reformists, such as Abdol-Karim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Mohammad Mojtahed-Shabestari, Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari and others, put forward revolutionary interpretations of Islam and its alleged compatibility with freedom and modern concepts. However, the hardliners did not sit idly by. The hard-line judiciary closed more than 80 reformist newspapers and magazines. Reformists were attacked, many of them were jailed, and some were even made the targets of assassination attempts.

Demonstrations by the students at the University of Tehran against the closure of reformist newspapers led to fierce clashes and security forces and vigilantes attacked student dormitories, ransacked their rooms, threw some students from their upper floor rooms and killed and wounded dozens. In the face of that concerted attack by the judiciary, the vigilante groups, and the Revolution Guards Corps supported by Khamenei, the elected president felt powerless.

To add insult to injury, his reaching out to the west and calls for a “Dialogue of Civilisations” and a settling of the differences with America, including the nuclear dispute and relations with Israel, were only greeted by President George W. Bush (or by his speechwriter David Frum) with the declaration that Iran was a member of the Axis of Evil.

Hard-line backlash under President Mahmud Ahmadinejad

The concerted attack by the domestic and foreign hardliners against Khatami sealed his fate and paved the way for the election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in 2005. In the 2005 election, the reformists were disheartened and disunited. They failed to reach agreement over a single candidate, and the reformist vote was divided between Hashemi-Rafsanjani who decided to run again for president, and former Majlis Speaker Mehdi Karrubi, former Vice-President Mohsen Mehralizadeh, and former Minister of Science Mostafa Mo’in. As a result, the candidate of the hardliners, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who was also supported by the Supreme Leader and by a large number of paramilitary groups, won the election. Due to his reliance upon the Revolutionary Guards and Basij paramilitaries, his government came to be known as the “Government of the Barracks”.

The 2009 election showed that the reformist movement in Iran was far from dead. After the fraudulent election when Ahmadinejad was declared the winner, despite the earlier results announced by the Ministry of the Interior declaring that the reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Musavi had won, the country witnessed the biggest demonstrations and protests since the victory of the revolution. The Green Movement attracted millions of Iranians from all walks of life, and although Ahmadinejad continued in power he became a lame-duck president during his second term with disputes arising between him and the Supreme Leader and serious splits appearing among the hardliners.

A New Beginning with President Hassan Rouhani

The election of the centrist Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president in June 2013 has once again swung the pendulum towards the more moderate elements in the Islamic Republic. However, after a short honeymoon, the hardliners have again started to flex their muscles. The judiciary and security forces have continued to arrest journalists, dissidents, intellectuals and students as a clear challenge to the president’s promise of greater freedoms.  The Majlis, dominated by hardliners who were elected under Ahmadinejad, have impeached his minister of science and higher education for allegedly appointing reformist figures as university presidents and deputy ministers. They have rejected three nominees by the president for the ministry on the excuse that they were close to the “Seditionists” or those who took part in the protests after the 2009 election.

Iranian lawmakers have approved a draft bill in support of those who “promote virtue and prevent vice”. It calls for the creation of a 17-member body to oversee the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice, and grants the hard-line Basij militia greater powers of enforcement. The so-called injunction to “promote virtue and prevent vice” is an Islamic teaching, basically calling on the believers to give advice to their friends who might indulge in immoral activities. However, this has become an excuse for fanatics and vigilantes to attack complete strangers on the excuse of wishing to promote virtue if they behave in a way of which they do not approve.

Recently, acid was thrown in the faces of at least eight young women in Isfahan who allegedly had not fully covered their faces, resulting in serious injury and even blindness in some cases. Those barbaric attacks have given rise to nationwide protests and demonstrations, and President Rouhani has also denounced the attacks. In a speech, criticising the draft bill and condemning the acid attacks, he said: “The sacred call to virtue is not the right of a select group of people, a handful taking the moral high ground and acting as custodians. It is upon all Muslims to exhort love, respect for other and human dignity.” He warned that such practices will “lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause rifts, all under the banner of Islam.”

These statements are commendable but they don’t go far enough. The authorities have so far claimed that they have not been able to identify the attackers. However, this is a lame excuse because everybody knows who is really behind these crimes. On October 16, 2014, Yalesarat newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ultra fanatical group “Ansar-e Hezbollah” or Hezbollah’s Helpers, published a report about a conference held by that group the previous day to enforce the strict observance of hijab by women. Speaking in that conference, Abdol-Hamid Mohtasham, secretary general of Ansar-e Hezbollah, ominously warned: “Our hands will not be tied in confronting those who violate religious injunctions.” He added: “The most important point that should be made in this meeting is that we will not stop only at oral warnings.” A few days later, eight girls were subjected to acid attacks in Isfahan. The government should have the courage to go after such vile individuals and their backers among the clergy and in the Majlis.

Failure to Act Will Embolden the Hardliners

One lesson that one can learn from President Khatami’s failure to achieve his reformist goals is that he did not confront the hardliners with sufficient determination. His weakness emboldened them and paved the way for Ahmadinezhad’s hardline government. If President Rouhani follows the same path he will certainly meet the same fate.

He should realise that he has the backing of the vast majority of Iranians. His own election showed that hard-line candidates who stood against him only managed to get just over 10 per cent of the votes, while he and the more moderate candidates received the overwhelming majority of the votes. Iranians have also gone through the sobering experience of eight years of Ahmadinejad’s fundamentalist administration and are more ready to support a reformist president. With the rise of the fanatical religious terrorist groups such as ISIS, the Iranian people are more prepared to denounce extremism, and the international climate is also more conducive to change.

Meanwhile, the best help that the west can give to the cause of change in Iran is to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran on November 24, and put an end to over 35 years of unnecessary and counter-productive estrangement and hostility between Iran and the west. An Iran that has greater contacts and engagement with the west is more likely to pursue more moderate policies in the region, including towards the Arab-Israeli conflict. If this great opportunity for an agreement is missed, it will further intensify hostility between Iran and the west, Congress will impose more sanctions, and Iran will speed up her nuclear program, paving the way for a disastrous clash between Iran and the west.

An Inevitable Clash

At the same time, a serious confrontation between the moderates and the extremists in Iran is inevitable, and further delay will only make the battle more intense. Either the Islamic Republic wishes to remain in its fundamentalist cocoon and alienate more educated, westward-looking young Iranians, as well as be regarded as a pariah by the international community, or it wishes to join the modern world and win its rightful place in the community of nations. There is no other alternative.

The Shah’s experience should also provide another lesson for the Islamic Republic. He was often encouraged to reform his regime and on a number of occasions he even made some attempts to introduce more freedom and democracy, but he hesitated due to the fear that the whole system might unravel. The opposite was the case, because had he opened up his government, the country would have prospered and he would not have met the fate that he did. The present leaders of the Islamic Republic are also gripped with the same fear, but inaction will lead to the same outcome, namely the total collapse of the system, while reform can strengthen it.




The Persian Project: A Sunni Perspective on History and Today’s Reality  


By Dr. Baheddin Shabaneh

November 10, 2014

It was in a sunny day in April 1986 when Iranian supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini was talking to the families of the Iranians who were killed or injured during the bloody Iran-Iraqi war when he said ” Lastly but not the least, I strongly encourage you all to continue to be loyal to the Islamic republic, which was made of the sacrifices of your children, and you have to work very hard to set the grounds for the appearance of the saviour of humanity , the last Imam, Hazrat Baqeyyatu Allah- my soul for his sake-, by being completely ready to sacrifice for exporting the revolution to every place on earth!

The imam he was referring to was Mohammad bin al Hasan the 12th sacred imam that Shia followers believe he disappeared in an underground tunnel, and he is still alive since his disappearance in 940 A.D. They believe he has been watching his followers for more than 1000 years till now and he will come out in the right moment!

Khomeini had given a fatwa (religious decree) few years earlier that exporting the “Iranian revolution” is mandatory for every Iranian, but he used more politically acceptable words at the time” Islamic revolution” for what some observers would say exporting “The Persian Project” and rebuilding the Persian Empire that once upon a time was encompassing the whole Middle East, parts of Europe and deeper parts of Asia and Africa!

So what is The Persian Project, and what is the relationship with the Shia sect of Islam.  Is it really a sect of Islam like what the Shia claims or is it an ethnic cult that used sacred Islamic figures close to the prophet Mohammad to seize the faith , neutralize its power, and taint the faith with a Persian spirit to resurrect the Persian empire!.

Muslim historians take us back to 644 A.D when three people two of which were of Persian origin were spotted whispering in a side street of AL Madinah, the capital city of the Islamic Caliphate, remembering the days of Persian Empire and how Muslims completely turned it down. They started throwing hate sentiment towards one of the greatest Caliphs of Islam and a companion of the prophet Omar bin Al Khattab. Next day, one of these three was Fayrooz Abu Loloa AlMajoosy who stabbed the Caliph with a poisoned dagger while leading Fajr prayer ten days after coming back from Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca).

Till now,  a large Masjid stands out that has been built on an imaginary grave of Abu Loloa in the city of Kashan in Iran commemorating the killing of Omar the Caliph, where celebrations occur every year during an Iranian feast called happy day of Al Zahra, where Shia followers believe the 11th imam ordered them to celebrate the death of Omar, the destroyer of the Persian Empire!

Going Back in history, several Persian empires have ruled over vast areas in the central Asia, Turkey, some parts of Europe and several areas in the current Middle East including Egypt, Levant, Yemen and most of Arab Peninsulas Eastern Coast, Iraq and current Iran.

The Archamenid empire ruled from 550 BC -330 BC and expanded from the Balkans and Macedonia in the West all the way to the Indus valley in the East.

One of the most notable events during this dynasty is the conquest of Babylon, and the reign of Cyrus the great, who allowed the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and he rebuilt their temple. Cyrus the great is highly regarded in the Jewish bible, and is the only non-Jew that is referred to the Messiah. (Isaiah 44:24, 26–45:3, 13). Iranians look up to Cyrus, the great for his achievements in human rights and tolerant policies. His heritage has shaped the current identity of modern Iran according to many Iranian experts.

The Sasanian dynasty ruled from224 BC – 651 CE. It ruled over vast areas in the modern Middle East, see map 2. The Sasanians called their empire” Eranshahr” which means Dominion of the Iranians.

Eranshahr has been taken over by the rising superpower in the Arab peninsula forming the Islamic Caliphate. The years following Omar the Caliph’s death most of the people of Persia have become Muslims except a small minority that fled to India and neighbouring countries, the Zoroastrians. Their descendants constitute now several hundred thousand in the world. Zoroastrians are considered the authentic Persians during the Sasanian dynasty who kept their Zoroastrian faith and heritage. They used to be called by Arabs “The fire worshippers “or “Almajoos”.

Although Iran rulers have denounced Zoroastrianism but its heritage is deep rooted in the society and they are highly regarded among many as the owners of the original religion of the Persian Empire. Some of the Zoroastrian celebrations are still highly celebrated among the Shias of Iran nowadays like the day of Nowruz the first day of summer. This day has been turned into almost a religious Shia holiday which underscores the Persian spirit of Shiism. There are tens of statements and Hadiths in the Shia Literature about the holiness of this day, some of them were claimed to be said by the prophet himself. One of those narrations mentions that Prophet Mohammad said that Nowruz is one of the days of Islam and it is one of the names of Ali bin Abi Talib, the first imam of Shiism and the main figure in this sect.

After the Muslim Conquest of Persia, a long process of Islamisation of the Persian culture has taken place and at the same time, great dynamic influences have resulted in a rising Muslim power rather an Arab one. The tolerant, and flexible Islamic superpower on the rise has adapted to the Persian culture, where many Persian Muslims have integrated into the Islamic and Arabic culture. A small percentage of Persians adopted the first Shia principles in the early days of the Muslim Caliphates based on some of the differences and issues among the companions. Non Arabs and particularly some Persians found this a potential opportunity to have the Uniqueness that they have sought to differentiate them from Arabs. The majority of Persians integrates in the mainstream Sunni Islam and contributed heavily in the Islamic Renaissance that followed.

In 1377, the Arab sociologist, Ibn Khaldun, wrote in his Muqaddimah: “It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars … in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs, thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farsi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar. Great jurists were Persians. Only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works.”

This initial Persian integration in the Islamic empire reflected a very flexible attitude set forward by the prophet Mohammad based on tolerance and containment. Two of the closest companions and councillors to the prophet were Persians. Salman Al Farsi, was the one who gave the advice to the prophet of digging a trench around Al Madinah City during the Trench war. Salem Maula Abu Hanifah was another Persian that the prophet mentioned, to take the Quran from four people, one of them was Salem, and he was the Imam of Muslims in Al Madinah prior to the Prophetic immigration to it, and was routinely leading prayer ahead of some important Figures like Omar, the Caliph. Ironically, Omar bin Al Khattab while dying from wounds inflicted by another Persian man, he said if Salem was still alive he would have placed him as the following Caliph after his death.

Over the following decades, the complete integration of Persians in mainstream Islam had suffered significant breaches due to growing number of Shia followers, and at the same time, the Shia sect started to differentiate itself more and more from the mainstream. The Shia sect. adopted a Persian anti-Arab spirit. Although this sect. started out motivated by political division but the lines between politics and religion have blurred and a new version of Persian Islam has come out. The Shia sect. has evolved in a group of emotionally motivated people with historical grudges against many mainstream Muslims. The historically based grudges use a major political incident which is the murder of the grandson of the prophet, Al Hussain Bin Ali, to point fingers and victimize the sect followers, and charge them to revenge for the death of Hussain.

Nationalistic anti-Arab sentiment still survives in the Shia sect till now. Shia sect forms about 10% of all Muslims in the world nowadays, most of them are non-Arabs, underscoring this Arab vs Persian competition that was a main theme in the origination of the Shia sect. The Shia sect was indolent and non-confrontational in the beginning to avoid conflict with the mainstream power, and as it was evolving it used protective strategies to survive. “Al Tuqyaa” is a method where you are allowed to lie and not tell the truth about your faith if you have to, and to pretend as a mainstream Sunni worshipper to avoid any bad consequences. The sect used the technique of glorifying some figures in the immediate family of the prophet to attract followers and sympathizers. The sect methods and strategies worked well to attract predominantly non Arabs.

Several Shia monarchies and states formed along the main Islamic Caliphates. Unfortunately many of these dynasties had significant anti-Sunni anti- Mainstream policies that resulted in huge destruction and bloodshed in the region. Some of these Monarchies were the Idrisids in Morocco, the Uqaylids in Syria and Iraq, the Buyids in Iraq and Iran, The Ilkhanate in Iran and many parts of Asia, the Bahmanis in India, the Fatimids ( The Ubayedyeoon) in Northern Africa, the Levant and Arab Peninsula. The Fatimids adopted initially a more tolerant attitude with the Sunni population that they have ruled over.

The Assassins or the Hashashin, were a group of extreme Shia sect, that was based on Iran and Syria, that used the tactics of Assassination as a psychological warfare, they have created significant destruction in the region and were used by the European Crusaders to target their enemies in the region. One of their leaders, attacked Mecca and captured the holy black stone, and slaughtered thousands of innocent pilgrims. The English word of Assassins came after their name. Another extreme Shia leader, The Uzbek Tamerlane who was an Alawite  who created significant destruction in Syria, and other areas. His army killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. One of the Muslim historians, mentioned that the army of Tamerlane, raped tens of thousands of women in Damascus, and destroyed and burnt down most of the city in 1401 CE.

A very important dynasty in the history of Iran was the Safavids ( Map3)which reunified Iran as independent state in 1501 CE and forced the majority of the Sunni Muslims in Iran to adopt the Twelver Shiism as the official religion of the state. Ismail I, the founder of this dynasty adopted very brutal conversion policies from Sunni Islam to the Shia sect. People were given two choices Shiism or Death, the Sunni mosques and cemeteries were destroyed, The Sunni insurgencies were wiped out, and the Muslim scholars were forced to curse the first three Caliphs of Islam, in all the mosques during regular prayers. A systematic destruction of Sunni Islam has been successfully accomplished in the years to follow.

This bloody conversion was politically and militarily motivated as Iran was bordered by Ismael I major political rivals, the Ottomans and Uzbeks, both were Sunni. So after the forced conversion the country had borders based on religious affiliation that consolidated the Safavid dynasty for 235 more years.

The Safavids had two major foundations, Glorification of the Persian race and Adoption of the Shia sect. Significant portion of the Arab Persian and Turkish Persian conflict had originated during that era. The Persian spirit in the Shia sect. was formally encouraged to increase the Uniqueness of the Persians from neighbouring Sunni rivals.

The Islamic revolution by AlKhomeini has adopted a strategy that is somewhat more aggressive than the Safavids. It reinforced the Shia perspective of the state, adopted an anti-Sunni sentiment, and charged the state with a Persian spirit. Additionally, they worked hard to export the revolution to the whole region by creating alliances with Western countries and Israel despite apparent animosities in the media , and by using their Shia affiliates in several neighbouring countries in the Middle East to destabilize these countries and subsequently expand their political influence in these countries with Shia minorities.

The Persian dream of Greater Persia similar or larger than the Safavids involving several of the neighbouring regions is a real dream that many have been working on for few decades so far. It started in the modern era by an Iranian-British alliance, where Britain helped Iran to capture the King of the Arabic emirate of Arabestan (Al Ahwaz or Khozestan) Khazaal Al Kaabi and he was killed in Tehran in 1925. This king’s title was Sheikh of All Sheikhs of the Gulf. This acquisition defines the current western border of Iran on the Persian Gulf, and it has 70% of the oil reserve in Iran. The Kaabi dynasty ruled from 1690-1925 CE but the Kaabi tribe has lived in that region for more than fourteen hundred years.

In his advice to the next Waley Al Faqeeh ( Ayatuallah Khomeini said “I assure you that the current millions of Iranians today are much better than the people of Hijaz during the days of the prophet” and in another statement he said” All prophets and messengers came to bring justice but they failed, even the prophet Mohammad has failed , the only one who will succeed to bring justice to humanity is the Mahdy Almontather” He was referring again to the 12th Shia Imam who disappeared in an underground tunnel and he will appear back again to bring justice. He is the same “Owner of Time” or “Saheb al Zaman” that he said about him that all the good deeds and bad deeds are being shown to him twice a week for all human beings since he disappeared more than a thousand years ago.

Dr. Baheddin Shabaneh is a Jordanian-American physician based in Houston Texas.




Jerusalem: Don’t Call It a Religious Conflict

By Rachel Shabi

20 Nov 2014

They are horrifying images of a house of prayer drenched in blood. That an ultra-orthodox synagogue in West Jerusalem was chosen for this latest, gruesome attack, in which four Jewish-Israeli men were killed by two knife-wielding Palestinians, has detonated appalling historic associations and has been widely condemned. This attack has also, inevitably, sparked descriptions of a “religious war” in the region – depicted in media headlines as being in various stages of development: either a current reality or an unavoidably impending one. Those who insist on stressing the religious dimension are bolstered by the reaction from Hamas to this attack, as the Islamist group has, with bleak predictability, praised and celebrated it.

And once again the media framing designates the starting point – and therefore, implicitly, the causes – of the current bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians. Most importantly, in this context, is the question of who or what set off the religious incitement in Jerusalem.

The Israeli government has repeatedly blamed the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

But its own security services quickly quashed such accusations: Shin Bet chief, Yoram Cohen, told a Knesset committee that Abbas (who has no control over Jerusalem) was not involved in igniting violence among East Jerusalem Palestinians.

Indeed, Cohen added, if anyone could be accused of exacerbating tensions, Israeli government officials and legislators are the first in line.

For some months now, this hard right coalition government has not just tolerated but actively supported a movement agitating for “Jewish prayer rights” at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif – a sacred site to both Muslims and Jews. Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s own Likud Party are a visible, vocal part of this campaign. There has been a tendency in some quarters to see the prayer issue as a kind of harmless coexistence campaign focused on equal rights. It is not. This movement goes against a long-established status quo agreement, whereby non-Muslims can visit, but not worship at this holy site housing both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

But more than that, it runs contrary to what Jewish religious leaders have been saying for centuries, which is to rule against Jewish prayer at Temple Mount. Today, there is only one, growingly influential rabbinical strain that says otherwise and that’s the one guiding the religious-settler movement, which should make it abundantly clear that the issue is political, not religious.

To play down the provocative nature of these attempts is either misinformed or disingenuous in the extreme. This is, after all, the same movement that talks openly about destroying the Dome of the Rock and replacing it with a third Jewish Temple. Indeed, Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel – yes, an active minister in the current cabinet – has said that he supports such a project.

The issue is pushed by the same extremist settler strain that, aided, abetted and funded by the Israeli government, has been colonising swaths of East Jerusalem – the area that is internationally recognised as occupied, the area intended as the capital of a future Palestinian state. It isn’t just Jewish neighbourhoods in the occupied east that are continually expanding; settlers have also taken properties in Palestinian neighbourhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah and non-Jewish parts of the Old City – throwing Palestinian families quite literally out onto the streets. And it is the same movement that – fully supported by the government and the mayor of Jerusalem – has commandeered crucial sites to push a narrow, national-religious agenda. One of these is the politically charged archaeological park at Silwan, in the heart of the Holy Basin, where dozens of Palestinians have already been evicted.

So it doesn’t matter how often Netanyahu says he isn’t going to change the status quo at the holy sites; the actions of his own coalition create an entirely different impression. Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer specialising in Israeli-Palestinian relations in Jerusalem, explains that the accelerating, rightist-driven changes in the city have meant that Palestinians “feel vulnerable and threatened – and they are not being paranoid. The anger is understandable and derives from serious sources”.

But pushing this conflict into the religious realm, defining it as a “religious war”, serves a clear political purpose. It means the Israeli government can bind its cause with the “war on terror”, claiming that Palestinians are just like ISIL in their motivation – a hyper-violent, hyper-fundamentalist jihadi mission rather than a quest for self-determination. It deprives Palestinians of cause or motivation, save for just one factor: religious hatred.

So in other words, never mind that the Palestinians in Jerusalem have lived under a punitive occupation for decades. Never mind that they are blatantly treated as second-class citizens, subjected to intense surveillance, harassment and arrests (900 in East Jerusalem since July); that they routinely deal with settler violence, house demolitions, chants of “Death to Arabs,” and curtailed access to religious sites. Never mind the prevailing and overriding message that their lives count less than others. For if the horrifying spate of attacks in Jerusalem are exclusively about innate hatred for Jews – well, how can anything else even matter?

In this religious-hate reading lies a terrible danger: It implies that there is no way out and no solution; that the violence is inevitable. This is a narrative that dovetails perfectly with the lines coming out of Israel’s right-wing coalition about how the conflict can only be “managed”. Because if the issue is religious, then how could ending this thing we insist on calling an occupation, possibly help?

But now more than ever, with religion so rampantly abused to weaponise increasingly brutal wars in the Middle East, the worst thing we could do is to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as religious. Now more than ever, only a just, political solution to this land- and rights-based conflict can save the holy capital from even more bloodshed and grief.

Rachel Shabi is a journalist and author of Not the Enemy: Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands.