Category Archives: Reviews

Hamas Unwritten Chapters by Dr Azzam Tamimi (Book)

Hamas Unwritten Chapters by Dr Azzam Tamimi
by Puan Zarina Nalla (MPF)

Dr Azzam Tamimi’s most recent book; Hamas Unwritten Chapters, is indeed very timely. It comes almost 10 months after Hamas; the Islamic Resistance Movement in Palestine, made a sweeping victory in an election that was unequivocally democratic” bewildering political pundits, making political observers sit up, overturning many assumptions both regionally and globally.

The surprise electoral victory has in fact, led to a renewed interest in Hamas. What does the movement stand for? How did it begin? What do the Palestinians see in them? Who was Sheikh Ahmed Yaasin? Are suicide bombers in the context of Palestine, martyrs or not? These are undoubtedly valid and honest pertinent questions , and those who genuinely seek a clearer and accurate picture of the current conflict, will appreciate Dr Tamimi’s book.

He writes objectively and illuminates a subject which has often been described solely from the Israeli and Western perspective whose analyses often betray HAMAS and its genuine struggle towards peace.

The book traces the origin of Hamas from its birth fifteen years ago at the beginning of the first intifada. It meticulously details the influence of its exiled leadership in Syria and elsewhere, and its internal organisational hierarchy and structure.

The rules and conditions of Madrid 1991, Oslo 1993 or The Road Map have denied the Palestinians their inalienable rights and stripped them of any form of humanity and dignity. The late Edward Said in his book titled, “The End of the Peace Process” (1994) highlighted the failures and injustices of Oslo 1993.

Dr. Azzam very carefully describes the “Hudna”; the Long Term Truce; the peace initiatives of the founding fathers of HAMAS, offering to both Zionists and Palestinians alike a truce; a ceasefire enabling a partnership, a joint quest for peaceful engagements within an agreed time frame. This has conveniently escaped, conscious or unconsciously the attention of political commentators of the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Below I quote 2 excerpts from the book. The first from Chapter 8 “Jihad and Martyrdom”, “Sacrifice or Suicide ?”

It deals with the legitimacy aspect of a tactic Hamas has been identified with and criticised for, not only by Western nations but even by some Muslims,.

“Defenders of martyrdom operations argue that the Islamic code of war applies only in conventional warfare, and refuse to accept that it should apply in the case of Palestine, where the situation is far from conventional. Palestine in such a view, is an exception. The unarmed and defenceless people of Palestine have been invaded and oppressed by a power that is heavily armed with the most modern weapons, which enable them to kill, maim and destroy while well out of the reach of retaliation on the part of their victims. From this viewpoint, whatever the Palestinians do to defend themselves and deter their oppressors is legitimate. It is often argued that only when the Palestinians have access to the sort of weapons possessed by the Israelis will it be illegitimate for them to resort to unconventional means of self defence.”

The second extract is from the 10th and final chapter ” Towards Intifada III”. P 181

“Nothing the Israelis did in Gaza seemed to [be] able to induce Hamas to yield, though the routine, almost daily bombing claimed many lives and destroyed Gaza’s entire infrastructure. While Israeli artillery pounded the border area, Israeli aircraft bombed the Prime Minister’s office, the Ministry of the Economy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministry. Aircraft also bombed bridges and main roads across the Gaza Strip, as well power plants and other services, in an apparent bid to cripple completely the Hamas-led government. This confirmed the suspicion that the entire operation was not about rescuing a single Israeli soldier in Palestinian captivity, but was rather a campaign aimed at destroying Hamas’s ability to govern in Gaza.” P 245

The author goes on to say that a third Intifada may be inevitable given the current state of affairs. Such a conflict may even involve other states and actors from the region.

It is the sincere prayer of every Muslim that true reforms and a better society will emerge eventually.

Dr Tamimi, a staunch advocate for the creation of a free, independent and democratic Palestine, has indeed made a valuable contribution with his book.

Islam and the Challenge of Democracy by Khaled Abou El Fadl’s (Book)

Islam and the Challenge of Democracy by Khaled Abou El Fadl’s
Princeton University Press 2004
by Dr Azzam Tamimi

On a website, named Scholar of the House and dedicated to him and his works, Khaled Abou El Fadl is introduced as “the most important and influential Islamic thinker in the modern age;” as “an accomplished Islamic jurist and scholar;” as a “high-ranking shaykh;” as “a world renowned expert in Islamic law;” and as “a prolific author and prominent public intellectual on Islamic law and Islam.” There is little more one may aspire to achieve. However, few Muslims would have heard of Abou El Fadl, let alone read him. Nevertheless, he seems to be a rising star in the United States where he has managed to persuade a good list of scholars and thinkers to take part in this project of his. So, what is interesting about the book is not so much the topic but rather the format, which is similar to his earlier book The Place of Tolerance in Islam. In both works a number of scholars respond to Abou El Fadl’s lead piece, and then Abou El Fadl responds to their responses.

As for the topic, this book, perhaps, could not have come at a worst time. Democracy in the West is in crisis; ruling liberal democratic elites in both Washington and London have violated every democratic principle in the name of democracy. They lied, lied again and continued to lie to their people and to the world until the images of inhumanity emerging out of Abu Graib left no room for doubters. The values said to be associated with liberal democracy: inalienable individual rights, a set of liberties, the rule of law and equality before the law have all been undermined with varying degrees across the liberal democratic world in under various pretexts. The Muslims in particular have been primary victims because the war on terrorism has for all intents and purposes been nothing but a war on every thing associated with the Islamic faith and the Islamic culture. Since September 11 thousands of Muslim men and women have been arrested and detained without charge in the USA, the UK and other European participants in the ‘war on terrorism’; laws have been enacted in all these places to restrict the freedoms of expression, movement and assembly; and Muslim school girls in France have been banned from entering schools with head covers. In the lands of the East, on the other hand, irreparable damage has been inflicted upon the prospects of democratization. The Americans and their allies have given a bad name to democracy that few Arabs or Muslims deem it appropriate to associate themselves with any talk about bringing democracy to the Muslim lands lest this is seen as collaborating with the foreign invading powers. Iraqis who loathed Saddam and prayed for an end to the nightmare they endured under him have regretted the end of his reign because American’s promised democracy has turned to be a worst nightmare. In light of all of this it is indeed a bold move on the part of Princeton to undertake publishing the book.

An impressive list of names is involved in producing the work. In the order of their responses to Abou El Fadl, they are: Nader A. Hashemi; Jeremy Waldron; Noah Feldman; M.A. Muqtedar Khan; A. Kevin Reinhart; Saba Mhamood; Bernard Haykel; Mohammad H. Fadel; David Novak; John L. Esposito; and William B. Quandt.

In his forty-six page treatise “Islam and the Challenge of Democracy” Abou El Fadl seeks to find room for democracy in Islam. For up to two thirds of his paper he exhibits skill in using his knowledge to prove the compatibility of Islamic values with those of democracy. Though he does not acknowledge it anywhere, he has already been surpassed to these grounds by many thinkers such as the Algerian Malik Bennabi, the Tunisian Rachid Ghannouchi and the Egyptian Tariq El-Bishri to name a few. Some of his interlocutors do make this point in passing mentioning in particular Ghannouchi, whom they mistakenly assume to be a resident of France, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the most authoritative contemporary sunni scholar and Fahmi Huwaidi, the most widely read and highly regarded Islamic journalist in the Arab world. However, in his own response Abou El Fadl seems to take offence at the suggestion that his position is shared with “other ‘Islamicists’ such as Rashid al-Ghannouchi, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, or Fahmi Huwaidi.” Clearly, the positions are not identical but not for the reasons Abu El Fald gives in his response. He charges that “Huwaidi’s and Qaradawi’s proclamations on democracy are dogmatic at best; they do not exhibit any serious understanding of the doctrinal challenges a democracy poses for traditional understandings of Islam.” It is his assessment that “both writers speak about Islam and democracy only in the most vague and general sense, without engaging the particulars of history or doctrine.” Abou El Fadl has nothing to say about Ghannouchi; one is therefore tempted to think that he probably knows not much about him and may have not read him. As for Malik Bennabi, he does not feature anywhere in the book despite the originality of his thinking and the enormity of his influence. The real difference between Abou El Fadl’s thinking and the thinking of the aforementioned ‘mainstream’ scholars and thinkers is that they emanate from within while he comes from without. Perhaps without realizing it, and he is gently alerted to this by some of his respondents, Abou El Fadl borders the ‘End of History’ discourse as he presents the case for democracy. Democracy is seen by Islamic thinkers as consisting of two components: a philosophical aspect that is incompatible with Islam and a procedural aspect that Muslims can learn and benefit from. There is no way the liberal secularist component of democracy can be espoused by the Muslims because it contradicts the essence of their faith. It is simply a case of two directly opposed world views: in the Islamic view divine revelation is the source of reference where as in the liberal tradition man is self-referential. It is therefore a futile effort to try and re-formulate Islam in order to espouse liberalism; this would simply be the end of Islam as a divine revelation. What Bennabi, Ghannouchi, Qaradawi and Huwaidi believe is that the chronic problem of despotism in the Muslim lands can be remedied in part by the adoption of some or all elements of the procedural aspect of democracy; for after all, it is these elements which are compatible with the Islamic values of vicegerency, Shura, justice and the rule of Shari’ah. It is these procedures that may help the Muslims institutionalize Shura and develop measures appropriate for their own needs and purposes in order to make government’s electable by and accountable to the people and in order to limit the abuse of power to the minimum.

Abuo El Fadl’s treatment of the question of compatibility between Islam and democracy suffers from a number of weaknesses, as rightly noted by some of his interlocutors – particularly Noah Feldman, Saba Mahmood from Mohammad H. Fadel. The first is his taking for granted and at face value what liberal democracy stands for. The second is his total silence regarding the practical impediments to democratization in the Muslim world. These impediments do not come from within Islam and are not posed by the Muslim peoples; rather, they are obstacles created and safeguarded by the world order that claims to be liberal and democratic under the leadership of the United States of America. My own research, published by Oxford University Press as Rachid Ghannouchi A Democrat Within Islamism, shows that the world order, the modern territorial state and the policy of enforced secularization are the real culprits. It is not true at all that, as claimed by M.A. Muqtedar Khan in his response, “democracy must triumph in theory before it can be realized in practice.” What and who aborted the Algerian people’s struggle for democracy and who and what provides dictators across the Muslim world with life when they are detested by their populations that aspire to say them perish. It is the United States of America, leader of the ‘liberal democratic’ world. Ironically, Khan is also critical of Abuo El Fadl but for a completely different reason; he thinks that Abuo El Fadl does not go far enough in espousing liberalism and denouncing the jurists whom Khan so bizarrely and preposterously accuses of having “colonial tendencies” that so long as they persist there will be no Islamic democracy.

Khan seems to miss the point. Abuo El Fadl does more than just that. His innovative thinking is to be found in the last few pages of his paper where he comes up with a new interpretation of Shari’ah aimed at trivializing it by relativising it. Indeed, unlike contemporary Arab and Muslim modernists (or secularists to be more precise), Abou El Fadl is keen to show respect to the classical jurists, but not contemporary one, and insists on the centrality of Shari’ah to Muslim life. However, Shari’ah for him is an unrealizable ideal. Whatever people claim to be Shari’ah is their own imperfect law-making that is nothing more than their understanding or interpretation of a divine perfection that is well beyond them. Imagining Shari’ah to be an obstacle, Abuo El Fadl set out to resolve it by declaring it impossible to implement. His gives an example as to how Shari’ah may be re-interpreted so as to conform with the values he believes to be absolute and universal. Verse number 38 of Surat Al-Ma’idah (Chapter Five) deals with the penalty for theft. The phrase faqta’u aydiyahuma (cut off their hands) is so arbitrarily interpreted meaning prevent them by stop their hands from theft, simply because Abuo El Fadl, contrary to the understanding and practice of the Prophet himself and of his companions and the scholars of Islam through the ages, believes that cutting off the hand of a thief is inhumane or unjust.

In an expression of a political stance, Abuo El Fadl does not hide his disdain and contempt for the Wahhabis and what he calls the fundamentalists. Both terms have become tools in the anti-Islamic propaganda to attack a broad spectrum of people including some of the most respectable personalities in the Muslim world. Such labeling only makes his work less likely to be appreciated by Muslim readers, though it may sound music to the ears of people on the other side of the divide.

The cause of democracy in the Muslim lands has not been served by this publication, which will only be seen by the Muslims as another attempt to undermine their religion. It is as if Muslims have to pay a price for the commodity of democracy from their own faith and culture or from their own freedom and dignity as is happening today to the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq. If democracy is not incompatible with Islam, and this is what most Muslims today believe the case to be, then Muslims need not be told they need to abandon a doctrine or a principle of their faith in order to be democratic.

Far from the assumption of this book Islam is not being challenged by democracy, it is liberal democracy that is today challenged by Islam. It is not Islam that needs to be reformed; it is democracy that needs urgent attendance so as to repair the severe damage caused to it by the liberal democratic states in America and Europe.

Azzam Tamimi

Visiting Professor, Kyoto University, Japan

Director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought, London

The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire by Arundhati Roy (Book)

The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire by Arundhati Roy
Flamingo, London, 2004, pp 145.
by Dr Mazeni Alwi

This slim volume is a collection of Arundhati Roy’s essays and speeches, focusing on the events that cascaded from September 11 to the US led invasion of Iraq. Most people by now would have known that Arundhati Roy shot to literary fame through her first novel, “the God of small things” which won the Booker prize.

Ms. Roy puts her fame and talent in the service of things dear to her heart : poverty, the widening gap between the rich and poor, state terrorism in Kashmir and religious fanaticism, gaining celebrity status internationally when a New Delhi court convicted her of contempt of court for her part in defending villagers who lost their land in the mega dam projects in the Narmada valley. Of late, her concerns have extended beyond India. Thankfully she has put her eloquence, wit and good looks into the service of global justice and democracy, speaking for the poor and voiceless of the world against rapacious corporate globalization and the menace of imperialism by the present US administration piloted by President Bush and his cabal of neoconservatives.

Ms. Roy’s critique of corporate globalization and the imperialist tendencies of US foreign policy, articulated through her eloquent wit, clarity and gift for language adds a fresh voice to a genre of writing, which until the event of September 11, remained the province of a small group of ageing leftist american intellectuals, viz. Noam Chomsky, Edward Said (died last year), Howard Zinn… In one of the pieces in this book , she paid a tribute to Chomsky’s untiring effort in deconstructing the lies, greed and power of the US establishment, big business and the corporate media.

The book is a collection of essays and speeches published or delivered in the west (except the introductory piece, “Ahimsa”, published in Hindustan Times 2002, and “confronting empire”, an address given to the World Social Forum, Porto Allegre, Brazil 2003, the anti-globalization movement’s equivalent of the World Economic Forum, Davos).

Being a collection of essays and speeches delivered or published at different places that deal with intense issues that built up from the September 11 attacks, it cant be helped that some of the themes are repetitive, but her witty style makes this an enjoyable read. Even if by now many an educated middle class asian/muslim who previously had not the slightest interest in world affairs and global justice have become wary of George Bush’s arrogant unilateralism and taken some kind of a position, these essays will surely add depth to one’s knowledge on the subject. Beneath the relaxed and witty charm of her prose, Ms. Roy has actually done quite a lot of research to buttress her arguments, making this a compelling read even to those already familiar with the issues of corporate globalization’s pernicious victimization of the world’s poor hand in hand with the neoconservatives’ dream of US global hegemony, and the lies constructed by George Bush for going to war in Iraq (the ordinary person’s guide to empire and instant mix imperial democracy are two illustrative essays).

To illustrate the depth of her research on the subject, in “Come September”, an address given at Santa Fe, New Mexico in September 2002, she quoted sinister events in recent history that took place on September 11. On 11 September 1973, General Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in a CIA backed coup. On 11 September 1990, George Bush Sr made a speech to Congress announcing his government’s decision to go to war against Iraq. On September 11 1922, ignoring Arab outrage, the British government proclaimed a mandate in Palestine, a follow up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, thus planting the seeds of the intractable Palestine – Israeli conflict and the destruction of Palestinian society that we see today.

My favourite piece is her last essay, “when the Saints go marching out – the strange fate of Martin, Mohandas and Mandela”, broadcast by the BBC in August 2003 on Radio 4. she wrote, “Its interesting how icons when their time has passed, are commodified and appropriated to promote the prejudice, bigotry and inequity they battled against. But then in an age when everything’s up for sale, why not icons?”. To illustrate such irony, she wrote of how Narendra Modi, widely accused of having orchestrated the anti muslim riots was voted back to office as Chief Minister of Gujarat. This same Mr. Modi invited Nelson Mandela to Gujarat to be the Chief Guest at the celebration of Ghandi’s birth anniversary. And of Mandela’s South Africa, otherwise known as “the small miracle”, “the Rainbow Nation of God”, within 2 years of taking office the ANC capitulated to the Market God, privatizing basic services, worsening the poverty and landlessness of blacks. The same government US court to rule against forcing companies to pay reparations for the role they played during apartheid (reparations i.e. justice will discourage foreign investments). Ms. Roy then examined what happened to the black american struggle for civil rights led by Martin Luther King. Among the many quotes by King was one delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City, “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettoes without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my one government”. King denounced the american invasion of Vietnam, linking the war to racism and economic exploitation, seeing that the number of blacks in the US army and those who died were disproportionately higher than in the general population.

Ms. Roy asked wether Martin Luther King would say today that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan are in any way morally different from the US government’s invasion of Vietnam. Who have inherited the mantle of Martin Luther King, Malcom X, James Baldwin and Muhammd Ali, asked Ms. Roy. Colin Powell and Condoleeze Rice, she wrote, are the exact opposite of role models. “They appear to be the embodiment of Black People’s dreams of material success, but in actual fact they represent the Great Betrayal. They’re the liveried doormen guarding the portals of the glittering ballroom against the press and swirl of the darker races”.

I would recommend this book even if many of us have now become familiar with the themes of Ms. Roy’s concerns. At least here is an eminently readable and witty response by a credible spokesperson from the third world to speak on the issues of economic exploitation and global injustice on the world’s poor. She is sensible enough to offer no easy solutions to “confronting empire”, but the first step is to look it in the eye, strip it bare of its pretensions. We have to “lay siege to empire”, “to shame it”.

In her critique of the US administration, she is also careful not to confuse the american people with their government’s policies. This is essentially the mistake of the less informed and the less literate. However legitimate are their grouses against the injustice, violence and devastation that america has unleashed wittingly or otherwise, blanket hatred and indiscriminate reciprocal violence will only undermine one’s moral cause. This is the biggest mistake made by those who use terrorism as a weapon.

Practising and Thinking Muslims (Event)

Practising and Thinking Muslims (Review)
15th April 2004

Being the first MPF function, albeit unofficially, the air was filled with anticipation as it got off to a promising start when guests started arriving as early as 7.00 pm. The registration tables saw an unabated flow of people as the ladies manning them performed some fine juggling to fit in many who requested last minute seats. A mini bazaar added to the air of festivity. Within the hour the hall was filled and more seats had to be made available as the crowd kept streaming in.

Brother Abdur Raheem Greene arrived promptly and after a brief welcome and introduction by Dr. Mazeni Alwi, MPF’s pro tem chairman, the evening was soon under way.

Brother Greene began by pronouncing the shahadah and declaring that the best speech is the book of Allah and the best way, the guidance of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He warned against matters that have been newly introduced into Islam which lead to misguidance and ultimately straying away from the path of Allah.

Brother Greene then juxtaposed two extremes we find today. Those who dogmatically stick to traditions in Islam without authenticating their practices, and those who apply their intellect above and beyond the word of Allah, the Quran. In Islam, an extreme is whatever that takes us away from the basis of the religion, that which takes us away from the norm. And Islam is all about balance, taking the moderate path. The ultimate authenticity lies within the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s ways, as they constitute revelation from Allah. And Allah’s knowledge is infinitely superior to ours.

Although the intellect has to accept the superiority of the Quran and the Prophet’s ways, this doesn’t mean we have no use for it. We need it to comprehend Allah’s revelation in order to appreciate it and more importantly, implement it in our lives.

It was evident by then that the listeners were riveted to all that Brother Greene was conveying. As they say, you could’ve heard a pin drop.

“What is our point of reference as Muslims?” he asked. “We need to ask ourselves”.

Islam is a religion as relevant today as it was 1400 years ago, totally, completely applicable. The real Islam, stripped of its cultural baggage, innovations, false traditions, is that which was revealed to our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). If you want to know what Islam is, it’s in the Quran, in our Prophet’s examples, in the stories of the companions. That’s our point of reference.

True Islam is a source of tranquility, a source of peace. It is what we can cling to during the most trying times.

Why do we only place great emphasis on the pursuit of worldly knowledge? We take great pains in ensuring quality education and spend years of our lives hunting it. We should rightly place greater emphasis on seeking authentic Islamic knowledge, as this is what we’ll be standing before Allah with.

Brother Greene concluded by saying

“It’s so simple. What agrees with the Quran and Sunnah is Islam, plain and simple. Everything has to be compared against that. Apply thinking to our deen. Take our deen as seriously as we do other things.”

After a lively question and answer session, where in part he spoke about the phenomenal growth of Islam, specifically in Britain and France, the evening was brought to an end. Brother Greene, however, was inundated with well wishers and more questions and it wasn’t until about an hour later that the last of the crowd left.

Alhamdulillah, by the grace of Allah, the evening was a success. Thank you to all who helped in any way and a big thank you to everyone who came and supported us in our first event. May Allah reward us all.