Report finds Muslim world has made huge progress in debate, discussion of Islam since 9/11

Titled “The State of Debate in Islam: Theological Developments in the Muslim World Since 9/11,” the report is one in a series from the TBI marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. (Screenshot/Shutterstock)
Titled “The State of Debate in Islam: Theological Developments in the Muslim World Since 9/11,” the report is one in a series from the TBI marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. (Screenshot/Shutterstock)
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Updated 08 September 2021

Report finds Muslim world has made huge progress in debate, discussion of Islam since 9/11

Titled “The State of Debate in Islam: Theological Developments in the Muslim World Since 9/11,” the report is one in a series from the TBI marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. (Screenshot/Shutterstock)
  • Study is part of a series published by the Tony Blair Institute marking 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
  • Despite the successes, report author Usama Hasan believes that there is still more that can be done

LONDON: Governments in Muslim countries and senior Islamic clerics have made great progress in reclaiming Islam from extremists, according to a report published today by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI).

Titled “The State of Debate in Islam: Theological Developments in the Muslim World Since 9/11,” it is one in a series from the TBI marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US. It analyzes the effects they have had on the global political landscape and on discussions surrounding Islam.

The report, written by Usama Hasan, a senior analyst for the TBI Extremism Policy Unit and a practicing imam, highlights more than 120 declarations, fatwas and edicts issued by Islamic scholars over the past 20 years in an attempt to confront the threat of extremism, including the 2002 Makkah Declaration.

He also outlines the lively, ongoing debate and discussion in the Muslim world since 9/11, and concludes that the fundamentalist-dominated discussion of Islam of the 20th century is being replaced by a 21st-century narrative that is more progressive, and more open to the world and other religions.

“Despite often going underreported, there has been significant progress over the last 20 years to confront extremist leadership and their destructive perversions of Islam,” Hasan writes.

“Governments, policymakers and decision-makers should take note of the intense ongoing debates in the Muslim world, they should enable and support those voices and forces that are more open, inclusive and universalist. Such forces are durable allies in efforts to build a shared, equitable future for humanity.”

Hasan told Arab News that he welcomes the societal reforms taking place in Saudi Arabia, describing them as “very important and very welcome.” He said he has spoken to a number of Saudis, especially women, who are “delighted” with the reforms being carried out under the directives of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

But despite the progress that has been made he believes more can be done, not only in terms of dialogue and debate between Muslims but also on the non-Muslim side.

He cites a few rare examples of occasions on which the discussion in the West has reached a high-profile level, including then-US President Barack Obama’s speech to the Muslim world at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University in 2009, and the work of a handful of British ministers with faith leaders. However these kind of things are not happening often enough, according to Hasan.

“I think, certainly from Western governments and from non-Muslim world governments, there should be more outreach,” he said. “Perhaps there hasn’t been enough understanding at governmental levels, in terms of policy.

“I’ve been to a number of international conferences (on the subject) and the outreach from the non-Islamic world tends to come from the interfaith community, where you will have a number of leading interfaith leaders and bodies. But with the decline of religion in western Europe and the US, that often doesn’t filter up to a governmental level.

“With a newly victorious Taliban in Afghanistan, an entrenched Khomeinist regime in Iran, and Al-Qaeda and (Daesh-affiliated) groups around the Muslim world, the struggle between fundamentalists and progressive Muslim voices will continue over the next few decades,” he added.

Regarding the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, Hasan said it is in the best interest of the entire international community, and not only the Muslim world, to engage more with its leadership in an effort to broaden its approach to Islam. He believes the Gulf Cooperation Council can play a wider role in this.

“If the military solution hasn’t worked, the diplomatic, dialogue-based efforts could bear fruit,” he said.

“What I would have liked, in an ideal world, with all of this excellent theological engagement within the Islamic world and the non-Islamic world it would be great to see the Taliban mullahs involved.

“It’s in everybody’s interest to engage more with the Taliban, showing them the sense in having a more progressive, pluralistic approach to Islam.”

While threats from Al-Qaeda and Daesh remain, Hasan said it would be “suicidal” for the Taliban to repeat the hard-line policies imposed during its last stint in power, between 1996 and 2001. And its leadership will be “very keen” to ensure extremist groups do not carry out another large-scale attack on the scale of 9/11, he added.

Hasan’s report also attempts to explain how the fundamentalist, extremist interpretation of Islam functions, using classical Islamic concepts — the ummah, the caliphate, the sharia and jihad — to justify their ambitions.

“Because Islamism is based on knitting together very particular interpretations of these four Quranic terms, mainstream Islam must confront these interpretations head on, especially by emphasizing inclusive and broader understandings of these terms that are more in harmony with the progressive spirit of the modern world,” he writes in the report.

But as long as healthy and constructive debate continues between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds, Hasan remains optimistic about the future and the role Muslims can play in helping to find practical and lasting solutions to the challenges facing humanity, including climate change and improving human rights.

“I’m an optimist by nature, but I think you have to be realistic as well,” he said. “I think that struggle will continue; developments aren’t without opposition from some quarters.

“But the trajectory shows — and all the indications with globalization, the world opening up and surveys show — young Muslims and young Arabs want it to open up. The forces pushing toward it are strong.

“It won’t be easy but history is on our side, and while there will be sacrifices along the way I’m very optimistic.”


Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
Updated 06 December 2021

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
  • Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules
ROME: People in Italy unvaccinated against COVID-19 can no longer go to the theater, cinemas, live music venues or major sporting events under new rules that came into force Monday.
Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules, which represent a significant tightening of restrictions in the face of rising infections.
New measures are also being enforced on public transport, with a so-called Green Pass showing proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative COVID-19 test now required even on local services.
A man in his 50s was fined $452 (€400) for not having his pass on Monday morning as he got off a bus near Piazza del Popolo in Rome, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“I don’t have it because I wanted to get vaccinated in the next few days,” he was reported as saying.
A record 1.3 million Green Passes were downloaded on Sunday ahead of the change.
Meanwhile in Rome at the weekend, new rules requiring face masks to be worn outdoors in the busiest shopping streets came into effect.
Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus in early 2020 and has one of the highest death tolls, at more than 134,000.
However, it is currently faring better than many of its neighbors, with 15,000 cases out of a population of 60 million reported on Sunday.
Almost 85 percent of over 12s have been vaccinated, a booster campaign is in full swing and jabs will soon be available for younger children.
The Green Pass was introduced in August for access to theaters and cinemas, museums and indoor dining, and extended to workplaces in October — a move that sparked widespread protests.
From now until January 15, a new “Super Green Pass,” which can only be obtained through vaccination or recent recovery, will be required for cultural activities — although not museums — and inside restaurants.
However, having a coffee at the bar of a cafe and eating outside is allowed without a Green Pass.
The restrictions will be further tightened in regions at higher risk of coronavirus.
Currently most of Italy is classed as the lowest of four levels, which range from white to yellow, orange and red.
Two regions are yellow — Friuli Venezia Giulia and Bolzano, which both border Austria, a country in partial lockdown over the number of cases there.

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
Updated 06 December 2021

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
  • India has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent
  • Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad

NEW DELHI: Cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have risen to 21 in India over the weekend and people must step up for vaccination, officials said on Monday.
The western state of Rajasthan reported the most number of omicron cases with nine, followed by eight in Maharashtra, two in Karnataka and one each in Gujarat and the capital New Delhi.
“The people of Delhi must get fully vaccinated, wear a mask and maintain social distancing,” its health minister Satyendar Jain said on Twitter.
He said the city’s first omicron patient was being treated at a state-run hospital. Some 94 percent of its adults had received at lease one dose, he added.
The country has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent. Tens of millions of people, however, are overdue for their second dose despite ample vaccine supplies, government data shows.
India reported its first two omicron cases in the southern state of Karnataka on Thursday, in one person with no recent travel history.
Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad, but doctors said the mutated virus was already spreading in the local population as well.
“omicron is here, community spread is underway,” surgeon Arvinder Singh Soin, who has been treating COVID-19 patients, said on Twitter. “Mask up. Get FULLY vaccinated.”
India reported 8,895 new COVID-19 cases for the past 24 hours, taking the total to 34.64 million. Deaths rose by 211 to 473,537.
Since a record surge in infections and deaths in April and May due to the Delta variant, new cases have hovered around 10,000 in the past few weeks.


27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
Updated 06 December 2021

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
  • Mount Semeru spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption triggered by heavy rain

SUMBERWULUH, Indonesia: Rescuers dug out the body of 13-year-old boy with their bare hands on Monday, as improved weather conditions allowed them to resume their search after the highest volcano on Indonesia’s Java island erupted with fury, killing at least 15 people with searing gas and ash and leaving 27 others missing.
Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rain. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed by tons of volcanic debris.
Searing gas raced down the sides of the mountain, smothering entire villages and killing or seriously burning those caught in its path.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been hospitalized, mostly with burns. He said rescuers were still searching for 27 villagers reported missing. Nearly 3,000 houses and 38 schools were damaged, Muhari said.
The body of the 13-year-old boy was recovered in the worst-hit village of Sumberwuluh, where houses were buried to their rooftops and cars were submerged. Crumpled roofs, charred carcasses of cattle and broken chairs covered in gray ash and soot dotted the smoldering landscape.
Search and rescue efforts were temporarily suspended Sunday afternoon because of fears that heavy rain would cause more hot ash and debris to fall from the crater.
The eruption of the 3,676-meter-high mountain eased pressure that had been building under a lava dome in the crater. But experts warned that the dome could further collapse, causing an avalanche of blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.
More than 1,700 villagers escaped to makeshift emergency shelters after Saturday’s powerful eruption, but many others defied official warnings and chose to remain in their homes to tend their livestock and protect their property.
Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted many times in the last 200 years. Still, as on many of the 129 volcanoes monitored in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people live on its fertile slopes. It last erupted in January, with no casualties.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.


Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says
Updated 06 December 2021

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

Next pandemic could be more lethal than COVID-19, Oxford vaccine creator says

LONDON: Future pandemics could be even more lethal than COVID-19 so the lessons learned from the outbreak must not be squandered and the world should ensure it is prepared for the next viral onslaught, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine said.
The novel coronavirus has killed 5.26 million people across the world, according to Johns Hopkins University, wiped out trillions of dollars in economic output and turned life upside down for billions of people.
"The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more lethal, or both," Sarah Gilbert said in the Richard Dimbleby Lecture, the BBC reported. "This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods."
Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said the world should make sure it is better prepared for the next virus.
"The advances we have made, and the knowledge we have gained, must not be lost," she said.
Efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic have been uneven and fragmented, marked by limited access to vaccines in low-income countries while the "healthy and wealthy" in rich countries get boosters, health experts say.
A panel of health experts set up by the World Health Organisation to review the handling of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has called for permanent funding and for greater ability to investigate pandemics through a new treaty.
One proposal was for new financing of at least $10 billion a year for pandemic preparedness.
The COVID-19 outbreak was first detected in China in late 2019. Vaccines were developed against the virus in record time.
Gilbert said the omicron variant's spike protein contained mutations known to increase the transmissibility of the virus.
"There are additional changes that may mean antibodies induced by the vaccines, or by infection with other variants, may be less effective at preventing infection with omicron," Gilbert said.
"Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant." 


UN rights chief deplores Aung Suu Kyi conviction in ‘sham trial’

UN rights chief deplores Aung Suu Kyi conviction in ‘sham trial’
Updated 45 min 27 sec ago

UN rights chief deplores Aung Suu Kyi conviction in ‘sham trial’

UN rights chief deplores Aung Suu Kyi conviction in ‘sham trial’
  • For inciting dissent against the military and breaching COVID-19 rules
  • Former president Win Myint was also jailed for four years under the same charges

GENEVA/YANGON: United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Monday deplored the sentencing of Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison by a military court and called for her immediate release.

The conviction of Suu Kyi “closes another door to political dialogue” in Myanmar, where the military took power on Feb. 1, and “will only deepen rejection of the coup,” she said in a statement issued by her Geneva office.

“The conviction of the State Counsellor following a sham trial in secretive proceedings before a military-controlled court is nothing but politically-motivated,” Bachelet added.

A Myanmar court jailed ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for inciting dissent against the military and breaching COVID-19 rules, a spokesman for the ruling junta said.

Suu Kyi “was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment under section 505(b) and two years’ imprisonment under natural disaster law,” junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said.

Former president Win Myint was also jailed for four years under the same charges, he said, adding that they would not yet be taken to prison.

“They will face other charges from the places where they are staying now” in the capital Naypyidaw, he added, without giving further details.

The 76-year-old Suu Kyi has been detained since the generals ousted her government in the early hours of February 1, ending Myanmar’s brief democratic interlude.

The junta has since added a slew of other indictments, including violating the official secrets act, corruption and electoral fraud. The Nobel laureate faces decades in jail if convicted on all counts.

Journalists have been barred from proceedings in the special court in the military-built capital, and Suu Kyi’s lawyers were recently banned from speaking to the media.

More than 1,300 people have been killed and over 10,000 arrested in a crackdown on dissent since the coup, according to a local monitoring group.