New studies throw light on post-9/11 theological debates within Islam

In the covered alleyways of old Najaf in Iraq, poetry and philosophy books compete with economic treatises, the Quran and other theological tomes for students’ attention. (AFP/File Photo)
In the covered alleyways of old Najaf in Iraq, poetry and philosophy books compete with economic treatises, the Quran and other theological tomes for students’ attention. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 16 September 2021

New studies throw light on post-9/11 theological debates within Islam

New studies throw light on post-9/11 theological debates within Islam
  • Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has published three reports to mark 20 years since 9/11 terror attacks
  • The project covered themes ranging from theological debates and education reforms to youth opinions on modernity

LONDON: There has been significant progress in shifting the conversation and debate surrounding Islam away from fundamentalist and extremist themes to a more open, progressive narrative in the period since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to a series of recent studies.

The project, which covered themes ranging from theological debate to education and social reform and youth opinion concerning modernity and Islam, was commissioned by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change to mark 20 years since the 9/11 atrocities in New York City and Washington, D.C.

In the aftermath of the attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda, an intellectual spotlight was thrown on Islam and the world’s 2 billion Muslims, which one expert believes led to the beginning of an ongoing period of self-examination within the Islamic world, which has helped governments and scholars reclaim the discussion of Islam from extremists.

Dr. Usama Hasan, a senior analyst for the TBI Extremism Policy Unit and a practicing imam, has highlighted more than 120 examples in his report where Islamic scholars have issued fatwas and declarations to combat the threat of extremism since 2001, including the Makkah Charter in 2019 which called for global dialogue based on human equality and the rejection of religious supremacy.

His report, “The State of Debate Within Islam: Theological Developments in the Muslim World Since 9/11,” also cites examples of governments — such as Saudi Arabia’s with its Vision 2030 plan — playing a role in building societies based on reforms anathema to the extremists’ ideology.

Hasan told Arab News that despite the welcome progress, there was still work to be done and the non-Islamic world had a considerable role to play in helping Muslims combat the threat of terrorism, through better outreach to the Islamic world, and also by recognizing the “intense ongoing debates in the Muslim world,” and supporting voices and forces “that are more open, inclusive, and universalist.”

If these discussions are encouraged at a global level, Hasan says, the dialogue will better help the non-Islamic world to understand the interpretations of core Islamic concepts and the so-called theological justifications behind Islamic extremism, as well as assist the Muslim world to combat its ideology.




After the 9/11 attacks, an intellectual spotlight was thrown on Islam and the world’s 2 billion Muslims, which one expert believes led to the beginning of an ongoing period of self-examination within the Islamic world. (AFP/File Photo)

“Because Islamism is based on knitting together very particular interpretations of these four Qur’anic terms — the Ummah, the Caliphate, the Shariah and Jihad — 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,” Hasan said in his report.

Education reform across the Arab world and monitoring of the content to which children are exposed will also play a key role in combating Islamic radicalism, according to another expert.

In his “Peace and Tolerance Education in the Arab World Two Decades After 9/11” report, Dr. David Weinberg, the Anti-Defamation League’s Washington director for international affairs, has documented the work being done in the Islamic world to address content that contributed to hate and violence.

“Textbooks throughout the region are now teaching that tolerance is a fundamental Islamic value, an ethos that provides an opening for other reforms in practice,” he wrote in his report.

“The report assembles positive examples of passages from Arabic textbooks today that model teaching peace and tolerance in practice, such as lessons that address the common origins of our faith traditions, the inclusion and rights of religious minorities, peaceful interpretations of Islamic thinking, and the importance of respect for others and interfaith dialogue.”




Graphics from current Iranian state textbooks: One with the Khomeini quotation: “Israel Must be Wiped Out,” (L) with another (R) showing Qassem Soleimani with the label “model martyr of the Islamic world” appended in the associated caption. (Supplied)

Similar to Hasan, Weinberg’s report highlights areas of significant progress in the Islamic world, this time in the field of education reform, but he too outlines where more can be done — especially with the help of the international community.

He said: “One of the things I have found from studying textbooks in the region over time is that countries’ educational trajectories can change, and that nothing can be taken for granted. For example, in recent years, Turkey’s textbooks have gotten somewhat worse while Qatar’s have gotten somewhat better.

“I found that textbooks across much of the region express support for tolerance as a general principle but then sometimes contain content about specific topics that contradict these tolerant guidelines.

“The international community can provide technical assistance and diplomatic encouragement to sustain positive reforms of this sort.”

INNUMBERS

• 33,000 - Civilians and security personnel killed in 2017-2018 due to violent Islamist extremism.

• 70,000 - Islamist extremists killed in clashes with security forces or terrorist attacks in 2017-2018.

But for that sustained change to continue, there has to be a political will, from both leaders and the people of the region themselves, Weinberg says.

Referring to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, he says positive revisions made in the textbooks of one country should ideally be reflected in the academic curricula of the other if they want to consolidate the movement toward peace and tolerance education.

Meanwhile, Mansoor Moaddel, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland-College Park, has used his report, “Changing Values in the Middle East: Secular Swings and Liberal Leanings,” to highlight the importance of increased participation of women and youth in the shift toward a more progressive region.

The young women playing their part in the changes across the Middle East “deserve greater coverage” than the hatred and violence perpetrated by fundamentalists. Because “they are the hope for the future, we should make every effort to support these champions and confront radical Islamists,” Moaddel wrote in his report.

In his recommendations, Moaddel said it was important for Middle East governments to continue to promote women’s social mobility and active participation in the political process, with all their policy approaches investing in them and their futures.




Opening up to the innovative thinking of the large youth population in the Middle East is critical to realizing the region’s full economic potential, according to a second expert. (AFP/File Photo)

Likewise, his report suggests that opening up to the innovative thinking of the large youth population in the Middle East is critical to realizing the region’s full economic potential. One recommendation says “the desires and ambitions of young people today should be continually considered in designing policies of the future.”

One thing that all the experts agree on is that the reconquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban has been a setback to progress for the modernization of global Islam.

Weinberg said: “The fall of Kabul is just absolutely devastating symbolically, and it is a reminder that the struggle against violence and extremism requires sustained investment from all responsible stakeholders to succeed.

“Extremists all over the world and of all kinds take encouragement from what happened in Afghanistan last month, and it’s up to all of us to aid the victims and to do what we can to ensure that they cannot succeed in translating the tragedy of what happened in Afghanistan into gains in other places around the world.”

Hasan recently told Arab News that more effort from the non-Islamic world could prevent the Taliban from repeating the excesses of their 1996-2001 rule.

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

“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.”




Mansoor Moaddel, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland-College Park, talks about the role of women and the youth to promoting modernization in Islam. (Supplied)

But regardless of this, Hasan and Weinberg will both be keeping track of the Islamic world’s direction, progress, and reform in the coming years.

As long as healthy and constructive debate continues between the Islamic and non-Islamic worlds, Hasan is confident Muslims can play a larger role in helping to find practical and lasting solutions to the challenges facing humanity, including climate change, and improving human rights.

Such an approach is required to challenge and debunk the extremist content produced by destabilizing forces before it reaches Middle Eastern youth, added Weinberg, citing the Iranian regime and its regional proxies as examples.

“The most I can say at this point is that I am cautiously optimistic about whether more progress will be made in the coming decades to curtail the exposure that children in the Middle East and around the world will have to extremist ideologies," Weinberg said.

“On the one hand, terrorist groups and their sponsors have some powerful safe havens that are tough to roll back, and from which they propagate hateful curricula such as those currently generated by Iran and Hezbollah.

“Plus, our children are now more vulnerable to hateful disinformation and extremist recruitment through the internet and social media in particular. But the internet also provides a vehicle for positive messages of peace and tolerance, and there is more that all of us can do to push back against hateful disinformation as well.”


Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
Updated 19 September 2021

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured

Last 2 of 6 Palestinian inmates who escaped maximum-security Israeli prison recaptured
  • The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank
  • The six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6, exposing security flaws from the vaunted "Israeli Guantanamo"

JERUSALEM: The last two of six Palestinian prisoners who escaped a maximum-security Israeli prison two weeks ago were rearrested early Sunday, the Israeli military said.
The two were captured during an Israeli army raid in their hometown of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, closing an intense, embarrassing pursuit that exposed security flaws after the six tunneled out of their cell on Sept. 6.
Palestinian media reported that clashes erupted in Jenin when Israeli troops entered the city, but a spokesperson for Israeli police said the two escapees, Munadil Nafayat and Iham Kamamji, were arrested without resistance from a house where they had taken refuge and were taken for questioning.
Fouad Kamamji, Iham’s father, told The Associated Press that his son had called him when the Israeli troops surrounded the house and said he will surrender “in order not to endanger the house owners.”
The escapes set off a massive pursuit operation that captured the first four inmates in two separate operations in northern Israel. All six inmates come from Jenin.
Five of the prisoners are from the Islamic Jihad militant group, with four of them serving life sentences, and the sixth is a member of the secular Fatah group of President Mahmoud Abbas.
For the Palestinians, the prisoners who dug the tunnel for months and escaped were “heroes.” For Israel, they were “terrorists” who took part or planned attacks that targeted the Israeli military and civilians.


Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran’s fuel shipments violate Lebanon’s sovereignty: PM

Lebanon's Prime Minister-Designate Najib Mikati. (Reuters)
  • The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria

BEIRUT: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Iranian fuel shipments imported by the Hezbollah movement constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty, according to comments published by his office.
“The violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty makes me sad,” Mikati told CNN in an interview, his office said in a posting on Twitter.
He added: “But I’m not concerned that sanctions can be imposed” on Lebanon “because the operation was carried out without the involvement of the Lebanese government.”
The Tehran-aligned group on Thursday began bringing tanker trucks carrying fuel from Iran, a move it says should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
A tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it crossed into Lebanon. Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.
Meanwhile, authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media said.
Ammonium nitrate is an odorless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
The National News Agency said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area. He said: “We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe.”
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.


Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran leader reasserts ban on sports with Israel

A handout picture provided by the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him during a meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
  • Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined”

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday reasserted the Islamic republic’s longstanding ban on competitive sport with Israelis, and promised support for athletes disciplined by international bodies for respecting it.
Iran does not recognize Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents, whether by forfeiting the match or by simply not participating.
“Any Iranian athlete worthy of the name cannot shake hands with a representative of the criminal regime in order to win a medal,” Khamenei told a reception for Iran’s medallists from the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The illegitimate, bloodthirsty ... Zionist regime tries to win legitimacy by taking part in international sporting events attended by the world arrogance (Washington and the West), and our athletes cannot just stand idly by,” he added, in comments posted on his official website.

BACKGROUND

In Tokyo, Iran won seven Olympic medals, three of them gold, as well as 24 Paralympic medals.

Khamenei instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined.”
He was referring to Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine, who withdrew from the Tokyo Games after the draw set him on course for a possible matchup against an Israeli opponent, prompting his suspension from international competition.


North Africa COVID-19 cases plummet after summer spike

A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 19 September 2021

North Africa COVID-19 cases plummet after summer spike

A woman walks past members of the Tunisian military standing guard during a protest against President Kais Saied in the capital Tunis on September 18, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID-19 deaths in its population of around 36 million

TUNIS: Weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases overwhelmed intensive care units across North Africa with severe oxygen shortages sparking public anger, case numbers are sharply declining.
Images of intensive care units overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients in July sparked outrage in Tunisia, which has suffered the region’s highest number of deaths per head from the virus, with around 24,500 in a population of 11.7 million.
Authorities responded to the surge with a strict early evening curfew and travel restrictions. Neighboring Libya closed its border with Tunisia. Those measures have now been eased.
“There’s the effect of mass vaccination of the population,” said Hechmi Louzir, director of the Pasteur Institute in Tunis, who is a member of the country’s scientific committee on the pandemic.
More than a quarter of Tunisians are now fully inoculated.
Morocco has seen 13,800 COVID-19 deaths in its population of around 36 million. The kingdom is ahead of its Maghreb neighbors in inoculations, with 46.7 percent fully vaccinated.
Health Ministry official Abdelkrim Meziane Bellefquih said this week that infections were down for a fifth straight week. But in comments carried by the official MAP news agency, he warned that “high rates of critical cases and deaths continue to be recorded.”
With an official toll of 5,650 deaths, Algeria announced a target in September to vaccinate 70 percent of its 43.9 million population by the end of the year.
But AFP figures show that this week, barely 13 percent of the population had received a first vaccine jab, with fewer than 10 percent fully vaccinated.
The country’s caseload peaked in the last week of July with over 10,000 infections, but has since plummeted. While the first week of August saw 268 deaths, the last seven days saw 132.


Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
Updated 18 September 2021

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east

Lebanon seizes dangerous fertilizer in country’s east
  • 20 tons of ammonium nitrate seized after raid on fertilizer warehouse in eastern Bekaa Valley
  • Shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at Beirut Port caused a massive blast, killing 214 people, last year

BEIRUT: Lebanese authorities have seized 20 tons of ammonium nitrate — the same chemical behind a deadly explosion last year at Beirut’s port — in the eastern Bekaa Valley, state media reported on Saturday.
Ammonium nitrate is an odourless crystalline substance commonly used as a fertilizer that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
At least 214 people were killed and some 6,500 others wounded on August 4, 2020 when a shipment of the chemical carelessly stocked at the Beirut port for years ignited and caused a massive blast.
On Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said security forces raided a fertilizer warehouse in the eastern Bekaa Valley, considered a hub for smuggling operations between Lebanon and Syria.
Authorities seized 20 tons of the dangerous chemical stored inside a truck parked at the warehouse, the NNA said, adding the material was transported to a “safe place.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, who visited the Bekaa Valley on Saturday, called on security forces to conduct a sweep of the area.
“We must do our best to move these materials to a safer place away from exposure to heat and sun” to avoid a “catastrophe,” the NNA quoted him as saying.
The company that owns the ammonium nitrate said that the fertilizer was intended for agricultural use.
“One of our employees informed the relevant authorities that we have ammonium nitrate, so they raided the warehouses on Friday,” one of the company heads told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The name of the firm that owns the fertilizer has not been made public pending investigations.
“We have been working in the feed and fertilizer industry for 40 years,” the company official added.
When combined with fuel oils, ammonium nitrate creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also by insurgent groups for improvised explosives.
Lebanese authorities are still investigating the circumstances in which hundreds of tons of the chemical ended up in the Beirut port for years, before the monster explosion that levelled swathes of the city.