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.”


Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks

Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks
Updated 5 sec ago

Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks

Pfizer vaccines available for EU children in two weeks
BRUSSELS: The EU’s main Covid vaccine provider, BioNTech/Pfizer, will have jabs available for children in the bloc in two weeks’ time, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.
She said she had spoken with the German-US joint venture about the issue the day before, and they said “they are able to accelerate — in other words children’s vaccines will be available as of December 13.”

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success
Updated 54 min 17 sec ago

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success

Portugal tightens restrictions despite coronavirus vaccine success
  • Under the new rules, most arriving passengers must show negative test results at Portugal’s airports, seaports and land borders
  • Authorities in Portugal have confirmed an outbreak of the new coronavirus variant, omicron, among members of a professional soccer club and a medical worker

LISBON: Portugal tightened passenger entry requirements and mandated masks indoors to curb an upward trend in coronavirus infections as the country with one of the strongest vaccination records in Europe entered a “state of calamity” Wednesday.
The crisis declaration, Portugal’s second this year, is one step below a state of emergency and gives the government the legal authority to impose stricter measures without parliamentary approval.
Masks now are required in enclosed public spaces, and individuals must show proof of vaccination, having recovered from COVID-19 or a negative virus tests to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels. Nightclubs, hospitals, nursing homes and sports venues also must require negative virus tests from visitors and patrons, including vaccinated ones.
“With the test, we feel more comfortable. We don’t leave the club thinking, ‘Do I have COVID or not?’” Sara Lopes, a 21-year-old shop worker, said as she lined up at a central Lisbon nightclub as the new requirements took effect at midnight.
“It’s a bit of a hassle to have to make appointment after appointment at the pharmacy, but it’s fine,” Lopes said.
Under the new rules, most arriving passengers must show negative test results at Portugal’s airports, seaports and land borders.
Experts believe that Portugal’s vaccination rate, which at 87 percent of over 10 million residents is one of the highest globally, has shielded the country from the infection spikes recently experienced by some other European countries.
Still, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has been rising since September. Portuguese authorities on Tuesday recorded 2,907 new cases and 15 deaths.
Authorities in Portugal have confirmed an outbreak of the new coronavirus variant, omicron, among members of a professional soccer club and a medical worker who had contact with them.


Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks

Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks
Updated 01 December 2021

Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks

Countries launch WHO pandemic accord talks
  • A new agreement on pandemic preparedness and response will come into force in 2024

GENEVA: World Health Organization member states agreed Wednesday to start work on building a new international accord setting out how to handle the next global pandemic.
Countries adopted a resolution at a special meeting in Geneva, launching the process that should result in a new agreement on pandemic preparedness and response coming into force in 2024.


China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks
Updated 01 December 2021

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks

China calls on citizens to leave eastern Congo after attacks
  • A number of Chinese citizens had been attacked and kidnapped over the past month in the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri

BEIJING: China on Wednesday urged its citizens to leave three provinces in eastern Congo as violence intensifies in the mineral-rich region.
A posting from the Chinese Embassy in Kinshasa on the WeChat online messaging said a number of Chinese citizens had been attacked and kidnapped over the past month in the provinces of South Kivu, North Kivu and Ituri, where several anti-government rebel groups have a presence.
It said Chinese residing in the three provinces should provide their personal details by Dec. 10 and make plans to leave for safer parts of Congo. Those in the districts of Bunia, Djugu, Beni, Rutshuru, Fizi, Uvira and Mwenga should leave immediately, it said, adding that any who do not do so “will have to bear the consequences themselves.”
“We ask that all Chinese citizens and Chinese-invested businesses in Congo please pay close attention to local conditions, increase their safety awareness and emergency preparedness, and avoid unnecessary outside travel,” the embassy said.
No details of the incidents were given, although the embassy last month reported five Chinese citizens were abducted from a mining operation in South Kivu, which borders Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
It warned a the time that the security situation in the area was “extremely complex and grim” and that there was little possibility of sending help in the event of an attack or kidnapping.
No details were given about those kidnapped, who they worked for or who was suspected of taking them.
Several armed groups including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French acronym FDLR, the Mai-Mai and the M23 regularly vie for control of eastern Congo’s natural resources.
Despite the danger, Chinese businesses have moved into Congo and other unstable African states in a quest for cobalt and other rare minerals and resources. Chinese workers have also been subject to kidnappings and attacks in Pakistan and other countries with active insurgencies.
Security was a key topic at a meeting Monday in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, on Monday, between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Congolese counterpart Christophe Lutundula, according to China’s Xinhua News Agency.
China’s government and ruling Communist Party “attach great importance to the safety and security of Chinese enterprises and Chinese nationals overseas and the Chinese side has been extremely concerned with the recent serious crimes of kidnappings and killings of its citizens in the DRC,” Wang said, using the acronym for the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Wang urged Congo to secure the release of those kidnapped and create a “safe, secure and stable environment for bilateral cooperation.”
Xinhua quoted Lutundula as saying Congo would take “forceful measures” to investigate the crimes, free the hostages, punish the culprits severely and safeguard national security and restore stability to the country’s east.
Earlier this week, Uganda said it launched joint air and artillery strikes with Congolese forces against camps of the extremist Allied Democratic Forces rebel group in eastern Congo.
The ADF was established in the early 1990s in Uganda and later driven out by the Ugandan military into eastern Congo, where many rebel groups are able to operate because the central government has limited control there.
At least four civilians were killed less than two weeks ago in Uganda’s capital when suicide bombers detonated their explosives at two locations.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility, saying the attacks were carried out by Ugandans. Ugandan authorities blamed the ADF, which has been allied with the Daesh group since 2019.


Fiji reopens to foreign tourists for first time in nearly two years

Fiji reopens to foreign tourists for first time in nearly two years
Updated 01 December 2021

Fiji reopens to foreign tourists for first time in nearly two years

Fiji reopens to foreign tourists for first time in nearly two years
  • Although limited, the resumption of tourism is a boost to many of the island nation’s 1 million people
  • The reopening marks a risk to Fiji with Australia one of a few countries to record cases of the omicron variant

CANBERRA: Fiji reopened its border to international travelers for the first time in nearly two years on Wednesday, as the Pacific Island country seeks to revive its dominant tourism industry.
Fiji shut its border to all foreign nationals in March 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19 in a desperate bid to stop its limited medical facilities being overrun.
With about 90 percent of all Fijian adults now fully vaccinated, the Pacific Island reopened its border to tourists from a small number of countries — much to the relief of tourism operators.
“To see the Fiji Airways plane full up and for us to welcome those tourists today was so amazing. It was a great, great feeling and I’m glad to have been there personally,” James Sowane, director of the Fiji tourism company, Tewaka, said.
Tourists arriving will have to stay three nights in an approved resort and undergo rapid testing. They can move around designated areas, including bars and restaurants within the hotels, while they can embark on some day trips and activities.
Although limited, the resumption of tourism is a boost to many of the island nation’s 1 million people.
Tourism accounts for 40 percent of Fiji’s economy and the border closure saw an estimated 10 percent of the population unemployed.
Still the reopening marks a risk to Fiji with Australia one of a few countries to record cases of the omicron variant.
Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama hailed the return of tourists, who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and tested for infection.
“Today, we are proud and most importantly prepared to welcome the first tourists to fly to Fiji in almost two years. Our message to every fully vaccinated, COVID-tested traveler who arrives to our shores is simple: Welcome Home,” Bainimarama said in a post on Facebook.