“The Syria Muslim Brotherhood: Leadership Transition from Bayanouni to Shaqfa” by Aron Lund

Aron Lund

The Syria Muslim Brotherhood: Leadership Transition from Bayanouni to Shaqfa
By Aron Lund
Syria Comment, Aug. 21, 2010

I saw the note about the Muslim Brotherhood in your latest blog post. However, what’s really worth pointing out — it’s mentioned briefly in the Khaleej article — is the fact that they’ve elected a new general inspector and top leadership. Ali Sadreddin el-Bayanouni held the post for 14 years, but has now, or so it seems, gracefully stepped aside. I interviewed him in London last year, and he told me he wouldn’t run for a new term since that was not allowed constitutionally, and indeed it seems he stuck to his word. That deserves some recognition, I think, considering how rare it is to see Syrian opposition parties (not to mention ruling parties) change their leaders at mandated intervals. I can think only of Riad el-Turks SCP/SDPP having done so before, but I hope it catches on. The opposition’s calls for democracy become rather more credible if they’re actually practicing democracy in their own organizations…

Mohammed Riad Shaqfa

On the other hand, things may not be as settled as they appear. El-Quds el-Arabi [Aug 2] reported that the new GI, Mohammed Riad Shaqfa is backed by a hawkish faction of “war veterans”, centered around his deputy, one Farouq Teifour from Hama. Everyone they name in the new leadership is from Hama, interestingly enough, since Bayanouni was said to be backed by an Aleppo faction, and there was a three-way faultline between Damascus-Aleppo-Hama in the group during the 70s. On the other hand, both Shaqfa and Bayanouni deny any sort of internal “coup” in el-Sharq el-Awsat [Aug 8] and appear to try to minimize differences.

Be that as it may, it would be a shame if it’s true that Bayanouni’s line has lost influence. He deserves a lot of credit for having spent his time as GI pushing for moderation of their sectarian message and trying to find common ground with both the secular opposition and with the regime. Sadly, the regime did absolutely nothing to encourage this, effectively slapping Bayanouni in the face when he gambled on reconciliation in Spring 2009 by “suspending opposition activity” over the Gaza war and ditching Abdelhalim Khaddam.

el-Quds el-Arabi claims that the “suspension” communique and the regime’s cold shoulder response in 2009 was the final straw that led to a “hawkish” counter-faction taking over. If that’s true (again, I don’t know, and I hope not), this has been amazingly poorly played by Assad — actively burning bridges to people with influence in the conservative Sunni majority might comfort the most isolationist and hardcore elements of the regime, but it’s certainly not what Syria needs. The country will never get safely past the 80s unless there’s some form of public reconciliation involving both the regime and the MB.

Aron Lund,

Aron writes:

I’m a Swedish freelance writer, mostly on Middle Eastern issues, with a special fascination for Syria. I spent much of 2005 studying Arabic at Damascus U, and really learned to love the country. Hope to be able to go back for a longer stay some time!

My book (the one I interviewed you for) is being published next month. It’s called Drömmen om Damascus (The Dream of Damascus), and it is published by SILC Förlag. As far as I can tell it’s the first book on Syrian politics in Swedish ever, so it’s about time… It’s intended to be sort of a non-specialist introduction to Syrian politics, focusing on how Hafez constructed the modern state, on Bashar’s first decade, the rise and fall of the Damascus Declaration, and on the various opposition movements. I’ve been interviewing opposition leaders in- & outside of the country for the past two years, incl. people like Khaddam, Bayanouni, Turk, Seif, Abdelazim, and many others.

Aron added in a note:

I just want to underline again that this is newspaper speculation. I’m not privy to their internal politics, and I personally don’t know which version is true. Unfortunately I think there’s good reason to suspect that el-Quds el-A has it about right, but that’s just guessing from what I’ve heard and read.

Further information on Bayanouni (by Landis)

Bayanouni and Khaddam

Ali Sadreddine Bayanouni (علي صدر الدين اليانوني) was born in 1938 in Aleppo and brought up in a religious family, where his father and grandfather were both well known Muslim scholars. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood while in secondary school, in 1954, and went on to receive training as a lawyer. After spending time in prison, he emerged to become the deputy leader of the Brotherhood in 1977. He left Syria two years later and eventually settled in Jordan, where he remained for twenty years. Britain accepted him as a political refugee in 2000, after the Jordanian authorities requested he leave the country. In 2005, he joined with secular leaders of the Syrian opposition to call for elections and freedom in Syria in what was called the Damascus Declaration. In March 2006 he joined Abdel Halim Khaddam in forming the National Salvation Front in an attempt to unite with defectors of the Syrian Baath Party, as well as the secular opposition. The stated principle upon which all elements of the opposition seemed to agree was the need for elections and pluralism in Syria. This was new. Shortly after the Bush administration in the United States was replaced by President Obama’s, which did not place such heavy emphasis on the “Freedom Agenda” but instead called for engagement with Syria, Bayanouni broke with Abdel Halim Khaddam and the NSF was effectively dissolved.

I have been told by reliable sources that Khaddam’s daughter-in-law traveled to Syria this spring to see if a possible pardon could be arranged for her father-in-law and extended family. Her efforts were in vain. Some 22 members of the Khaddam extended family were required to leave Syria and lost their property following Abdel Halim’s Khaddam’s announcement in 2005 that he expected the downfall of the Syrian regime in six months and would work to promote that end by leading Syria’s opposition from France.

For further reading on Bayanouni read this 2006 article by Gary C. Gambill and this interview by Mahan Abedin in 2005. Also see my post about the Khaddam – Bayanouni link up here and about Bayanouni’s changing language on the Alawites, here. Also see Anthony Shadid’s 2005 Washington Post article here.

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51. Norman said:

That is how to win the hearts and minds in the West ,

Muslim liberal arts college takes root in Berkeley
Zaytuna College hopes to address U.S. Muslim community’s desire for leaders who understand Islam in a western context.

Students Amanda Shreim, left, and Yasmine Salem give each other high fives after getting an answer right during an intensive summer study of Arabic in Berkeley. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times / August 28, 2010)

August 28, 2010
E-mail Print Share Text Size la-me-beliefs-zaytuna-20100828

At a fundraiser in February for Zaytuna College, organizers seemed intent on preempting critical questions.

“Why a Muslim College in America?” the Anaheim event was headlined, as if anticipating the query from audience members. And throughout the four-hour gathering, the speakers repeatedly stated why they believed such an institution was needed, calling it an idea whose time has come.

Hatem Bazian, a UC Berkeley lecturer in Near East studies and a co-founder of Zaytuna, said that touch of defensiveness came after more than a year of crisscrossing the country and gauging sentiment from the American Muslim community.

“There’s still some lack of clarity from the members of the community whether this is something that is needed at this point or not,” Bazian said after the fundraiser. “People need to feel this is something that is needed for them to invest in it.”

Zaytuna, which hopes to become the first accredited, four-year Muslim liberal arts college in the United States, this week welcomed its first students to its rented space in a Baptist seminary in Berkeley. The college, which has about a dozen faculty members, will offer two majors at first, in Arabic language and Islamic law and theology.

Muslims in the U.S. have founded schools, mosques and religious organizations. An accredited college is the next step, Zaytuna’s founders say. They cite a long tradition of other faiths founding their own educational institutions and seminaries.

“If you have distinctive views of the world, it’s important to have institutions to pass on that view,” Zaytuna founder Sheikh Hamza Yusuf said. A convert to Islam and Northern California native, Yusuf is considered one of the leading Islamic scholars in the U.S.

But the college, which has been in the works for several years, is more than just an item on a religious community’s to-do list.

Zaytuna (which means “olive” in Arabic) stems from a growing desire in many parts of the U.S. Muslim community for leaders and imams who understand Islam within a Western context.

“In order to have an American Muslim identity, we needed leaders who were raised in institutions here to lead those communities,” said Imam Zaid Shakir, another of the founders. Shakir, who converted to Islam while serving in the Air Force, is a respected Islamic scholar who has studied in Egypt, Syria and Morocco.

To date, Muslim religious leaders have mostly come from abroad. And although they have extensive knowledge of the Islamic texts, the Koran and Arabic, they are often unfamiliar with the American culture in which Islam is practiced, Shakir said.

Nowadays, employment ads for imams in Muslim American magazines seek candidates who are fluent in Arabic and English, able to work with youths and engage in interfaith activities.

The goal of the new college, Shakir said, is “to graduate culturally fluent, Islamically trained human beings.” Of those, he said, some may hope to become imams, some to go into a graduate or professional program and some “may want to be housewives or open a halal meat shop.”

The college is not a seminary but does include an imam certification program over three summer semesters.

Fatimah Knight, one of 15 members of Zaytuna’s first freshman class, said she considered Yusuf and Shakir, the college’s two main leaders, ideal to lead the effort because they understand the thinking of Muslims in America. When Yusuf gives a speech, he quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as the Koran, she said.

“And I think it’s very appealing to Western Muslims because it’s very much how we are,” said Knight, who plans to major in Islamic law.

The college grew out of the Zaytuna Institute, an educational institute founded by Yusuf in Hayward in 1996 to present a classical picture of Islam and bring back traditional study methods about Islam. That was followed by a pilot program with five seminary students a few years ago to test the idea for a college.

There are other Muslim higher education institutions in the United States, but Zaytuna officials say the college will be the first to merge Islamic and liberal arts education and, they hope, to be accredited. Zaytuna is seeking accreditation with the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges and its leaders hope to complete that process by the time its first class graduates.

Zaytuna has sought to emulate American universities in another way by setting the goal of creating a $5-million endowment by the end of this year and a $30-million endowment in five years. When classes began this week, the endowment was about $2 million short.

“The endowment has been going slow,” Shakir said. “It’s a new idea, people are used to investing in more tangible things, like schools or mosques.”

The university has even offered a fundraising promotion to encourage more donations, with a prize of making a pilgrimage to Mecca alongside Yusuf and Shakir.

Hossam AlJabri, executive director of the Muslim American Society, which runs its own Islamic university in Michigan, said raising money was one of the biggest challenges for such institutions. Many Muslims, along with Americans of other faiths, are already supporting religious groups and institutions and other charities. Giving to a Muslim university may not be as high a priority, he said.

“The common Muslim is going to pay for what is going to bring immediate results tomorrow or see relief tomorrow,” AlJabri said. “And education is a long-term investment.”


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August 28th, 2010, 8:55 am


52. Joshua said:

Elie, You and Taha Hussein are not the only ones who want to revalorize the Jahiliyya.

Zaki al-Arsuzi, the co-founder of the Baath Party argued that the Jahaliyya was the true Golden Age of the Arabs, and indeed, of Islam.

Here are a few paragraphs from an article on him that I wrote:

“Arsuzi’s interpretation of the Arab language as a divine language also had an impact on his view of Arabic history. In order to purge Arabism of its focus on Muhammad and the early Islamic empires, which Sunnis saw as the Golden Age, Arsuzi argued that the jahiliyya, or the pre-Islamic period, was the true Golden Age of the Arabs. This allows him to shift the high point of Arabism to an age before sectarian divisions splintered the Islamic community.

In Arsuzi’s analysis, the jahiliyya was the real highpoint of Arabism because legalistic Islam had yet to lead Arabs astray and divide them. The formalism of scriptural Islam, in Arsuzi’s view, was the beginning of Arab decline because it set them on the path of division and internecine conflict that destroyed their ethnic unity and spiritual spontaneity, the true source of their connection to the Divine. Arsuzi had no respect for Sunni scholasticism and by holding up the jahiliyya as the Arab Golden Age, he sought to undermine the Sunni monopoly on orthodoxy and legitimacy. By grounding true Arab and Islamic spirituality in jahiliyya period, Arsuzi sought to neutralize the intractable religious question that divided his people. He could also strike a blow at the religious establishments of both Sunni and Shi’i Islam, which had long denigrated Alawites and rejected them as apostates.

The jahiliyya age was better than the post-Muhammad age, Arsuzi argues, because it was a period of “spontaneity” and unbridled expression of the primordial and “intuitive” characteristics inherent in the Arab nation. He analyzes pre-Islamic poetry, which he believed to be the most authentic Arab poetry, to demonstrate the power, nobility, and inspired artistry of the age. It was the age of ma`na (meaning) as opposed to the period following Muhammad’s revelations, which was the “ism” (name), an age of scholasticism and piety. Arsuzi writes that the jahiliyya was the age of true Arab “nobility,” “liberty,” “heroism,” “authenticity,” and “morality,” whereas the Islamic age was one of “obedience,” “scholasticism,” “writing,” “externality,” “dogma,” and “formalism.” The vocabulary and concepts Arsuzi uses to make his argument mirror Alawite concepts of the batin (esoteric) and żahr (exoteric). Islam imposed the dead hand of “piety” and rote learning on the Arabs, Arsuzi argues, in the place of the natural authenticity and creative power it had known during the jahiliyya. He writes, “Islamic education has displaced the axis of life and its profundity with instructions dictated from the outside, such that the written has replaced the natural by which man creates.” This quote epitomizes the age-old dilemma between a religion in which divine revelation is handed down by tradition and a religion in which the divine is accessed directly through mystical experience and an immediate connection with the divine spirit. Arsuzi asserts the superiority of the Gnostic approach over the bookish scholasticism of Sunni Islam in apprehending true Arabism and Islam.

When Arsuzi was criticized for being an atheist because of his insistence that the jahiliyya was the true Golden Age of the Arabs and of Islam, he explained that: “It was commonly admitted by the people of the time of jahiliyya that Islam was the religion of the unity of God.” He explained that “from the Arab point of view, Islam began with Adam who is the father of humanity; the principles of Islam are the inheritance that the generations have transmitted one to the other since the dawn of time.” Arsuzi’s argument for why the Arabs of the jahiliyya were good Muslims and already knew the basic tenets of Islam derives from his Alawite understanding of the cycles of revelation.

Arsuzi also uses a racial argument to prove the superiority of the Jahiliyya age. During the jahiliyya the Arab race, enclosed as it had been for many centuries in the Arabian Peninsula, was at its purist and thus able to fulfill its mission. The appearance of God in Muhammad and `Ali was only possible because the Arabs were pure and in tune with their living tradition. It is when the Arabs spread out to conquer other peoples such as the Persians, Turks, Berbers, Copts, etc. that their blood, language, and institutions became mixed with and adulterated by others, or al-aghyar. Non-Arabs became Muslims and assimilated to Arab society, but medieval Arab culture went into decline as the foreigners began to rule over Arabs, who were forced to leave the cities and “seek refuge in the countryside.” (Here, one can only surmise that Arsuzi is making an argument that rural peoples, such as the Alawites, are the truest Arabs with the least admixture of foreign blood because they had been chased from the cities, the seat of foreign rule and epicenters of racial inter-mixing.

The alienation of the Alawites from Medieval Islamic history and urban society is evident in his rendition of Arab history. Thus, the Islamic age replaced the “natural brotherhood” of the jahiliyya with a “brotherhood of faith.” To prove how the medieval Arabs had come to value faith over loyalty to nation and the source of Arab spiritual renewal, Arsuzi quotes a famous hadith of the Prophet that states: “An Arab has no more worth than a stranger, if not by piety.” This hadith is incorrect, in Arsuzi’s view, and a sign of how far astray Arab civilization had wandered under the Abbasids and later “foreign” rulers. In an age of nationalism, according to Arsuzi, it was imperative for enlightened Arab leaders to reverse this misconception and to return their people to a correct understanding of the value of national principles because the divine creator had made the Arabs first nation. All prophets had emerged from the Arab people, beginning with Adam. They spoke Arabic, the language that most closely mirrored nature and the spiritual sources of creation.

How could a pious Turk or Persian, for example, be worthier than an Arab? How could they let religious consciousness supersede national solidarity? The Turks used precisely this religious consciousness to divide Sunni Arabs from their Alawite brothers in Alexandretta, where he had grown up and served as the leader of the Arab national movement. His efforts to convince the Arab speaking Sunnis of the region to join with their Alawite and Christian Arab confreres against the Turks had been in vain. Many of the Arab Sunnis of Alexandretta remained silent, or even voted with the Turks, during the turbulent years of the 1930s during which the Turks and French oversaw controversial votes and referendums designed to create a legal pretext for annexing the province to Turkey. Arguments based on piety and religion rather than race and authenticity ignore and the metaphysical and biological forces that manifest themselves among homogeneous Arabs.”

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August 28th, 2010, 10:10 am


53. majedkhaldoun said:

one can only surmise that Arsuzi is making an argument that rural peoples, such as the Alawites, are the truest Arabs with the least admixture of foreign blood
I found this note hard to believe,Alawites are white,Arab are brunet

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August 28th, 2010, 2:15 pm


54. Norman said:

Majid, Jushua,

What makes the Arabs Arabs is not that they are descendant of the people from Arabia it is the fact that they live in the Arab world , as i told you previously i had my DNA tested and found out that I have more relatives in England than in Syria , and i have a brown hair and (( hunty )) skin , that does not mean anything to me as i am from Syria , and i feel that i belong there ,

I do not know about the benefit of denying the significant influence that Islam had on the early Arab empire as Islam was the driving force that got the early Arabs to seek greatness for the sake of God and the new religion ,
What we need to understand that Islam spread because of it’s tolerance and protection of the Minorities , low taxes and property rights and the freedom to succeed , it looks to me that early Islam was closer to today America a growing culture and economy , It is when Islam became a tool of the religious leaders as did Christianity before it that it became an obstacle to it’s own future , I do not know if i made myself clear enough ,

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August 28th, 2010, 4:15 pm


55. Elie Elhadj said:

Professor Landis,

Many thanks for your enlightening article on how Zaki Al-Arsouzi viewed the pre-Islamic epoch. I was particularly impressed by the following statements:

“Arsuzi argued that the jahiliyya, or the pre-Islamic period, was the true Golden Age of the Arabs.”

“By grounding true Arab and Islamic spirituality in jahiliyya period, Arsuzi sought to neutralize the intractable religious question that divided his people.”

“Islam imposed the dead hand of “piety” and rote learning on the Arabs, Arsuzi argues, in the place of the natural authenticity and creative power it had known during the jahiliyya.”

“He explained that “from the Arab point of view, Islam began with Adam who is the father of humanity; the principles of Islam are the inheritance that the generations have transmitted one to the other since the dawn of time.”

The last statement may be read to mean that the pre-Islamic way of life and culture incorporated Islam rather than the other way around.

Indeed, as I stated in 31: “A comparison between certain aspects of the pre-Islamic way of life and the Islamic way of life shows that Islam has embraced much from jahili culture; for example, the Mecca pilgrimage rituals, the lunar calendar, the belief in djinn and angels, treatment of women, slavery, blind obedience to hierarchical authority…”

“Even the concept of monotheism was known to the pre-Islamic Arabs. Although the pagan Arabs worshiped many deities they also recognized a supreme God. They called him Allah. The Quran testifies that the pre-Islamic Arabs recognized Allah’s awesome powers but they ignore him (29:61, 29:63, 39:3). The name of the Prophet’s father was Abd Allah”.

I would like to add here that the four verses of Al-Ikhlas Sura (no. 112) were possibly known to the jahilis. “When Khalid Bin Sinan’s daughter heard the Prophet reciting the four verses, she said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, this is what my father used to say.’ The Prophet did not contradict her and praised her father” (Abdullah, A. Y. Al-Udhari, 1991. “Jahili Poetry Before Imru Al-Qais”. Ph.D dissertation. School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, p. 73).

In making the first article of the Islamic faith “La ilaha illa Allah,” meaning: “There is no God (deity) but God,” in designating Allah as the only omnipotent God, Islam did not invent a new deity.

It may be said that the Prophet “Muhammad contended himself with ridding the heathen Allah of His ‘companions’ subjecting Him to a kind of dogmatic purification” [Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, s.v. Arabs (Ancient)].

It may also be said that monotheism transferred in one swoop all the powers that had been the preserve of the many gods of the pre-Islamic polytheists into the hands of the one and only omnipotent God, Allah. As the Messenger of Allah, the Prophet was divinely inspired. Being divinely inspired, the Prophet’s authority became rooted in Allah’s unlimited and absolute powers. Thus, God orders in 4:59 and in dozens of similar verses: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.”


May Zaytuna’s funding not come from Wahhabis and may it not become an a-la Wahhabi/Taliban madrassah.


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August 28th, 2010, 4:52 pm


56. Norman said:


I think that is the idea, American Muslims donating money to have an American Muslim College ,

August 28, 2010
Doors Start to Open to Activists in Syria

ALEPPO, Syria — For five years, Chavia Ali’s attempts to start a disability rights group were thwarted — by prejudice, a lack of money and the Syrian government’s stranglehold on civic life. The government gave her a license, but prevented the group from meeting because of what Ms. Ali believes was a whisper campaign against her, a Kurd with a growing profile.

Then everything changed.

Last year, Ms. Ali was told that a third of her budget would be paid by a group led by Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. Now Ms. Ali, 29, is everywhere, giving television interviews, speaking at ministry conferences and having her picture taken with the first lady.

The reversal of her group’s fortunes is part of an overture that government officials have described as a new embrace of civil society.

But the embrace is complicated. Even as doors have opened for a few people, like Ms. Ali, they have shut with increasing frequency on activists demanding greater political rights, according to human rights lawyers here. While some rights advocates welcome any opening, no matter how small, others say it extends only to groups that pose no challenge to the established order.

“Civil society means free people create free initiatives,” said one Syrian activist, one of many who requested anonymity for fear of government reprisal. “How can un-free people do that?”

Ms. Ali embodies the conundrum. Her cousin was arrested this summer by the security services during one of their regular sweeps through Kurdish villages, but she refuses to talk about what happened.

“Some ideas you can’t touch,” she said. “I don’t want to go outside of my case. I am working on disabilities.”

It is a quandary faced by activists across the Middle East. In the narrow alleyways of civic life permitted by authoritarian governments in the region, opportunities exist as long as certain limits are observed. While foreign aid groups often cheer the explosive growth of organizations that help women, children or the environment, there are questions about whether the groups can change the political order.

As the world watches Syria emerge from years of international isolation, Syrians are watching the government play its strengthened hand at home.

“We are seeing changes,” said Bassam Haddad, director of the Middle East studies program at George Mason University. “The number of associations that are emerging is increasing. The number of concerns that are allowed to become public is also increasing. The whole process is blessed by the government. It has good intentions but built-in structural limitations.”

Professor Haddad said that in the 1990s, during a similar embrace of civil society groups, activists knew the changes were cosmetic but assumed that the very existence of new groups might hasten change. Few people have those illusions today, he said.

“I think the first thing that Syrians need to see is an end to arbitrary rulings that put away people based on their viewpoints,” he said. “That is something that stifles any kind of public debate about the important issues.”

Many rights advocates go further, dismissing the talk of civil society by the government as window-dressing while it continues to arrest Islamists, Kurds and other political opponents, along with the lawyers who represent them.

Civil society figures who cross the line, like Muhannad al-Hassani, can end up in jail. Mr. Hassani, a lawyer who used to monitor the trials of dissidents in the Supreme State Security Court, was disbarred for life last year, and in June was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that included “weakening national sentiment.”

Mrs. Assad’s efforts put a softer face on her husband’s policies and, within limits, appear to be doing some good. An organization she directs, the Syria Trust for Development, finances groups that work with women, rural residents, children and entrepreneurs. Its Web site says the trust is “at the forefront of the emerging N.G.O. sector in Syria, at a time when the country is actively pursuing a substantial agenda for change.”

The new groups might represent progress, but they also fill a need, as Syria copes with growing numbers of impoverished citizens. “The cultural reliance on the government for everything is not attuned to modern society,” said Imad Moustapha, Syria’s ambassador to Washington.

For her part, Ms. Ali has seized on the opening to figure out ways to integrate people with disabilities into Syrian society and to help them become independent in a country that makes that nearly impossible. To spend time with Ms. Ali as she traveled around her country this month was to understand the depth of that challenge. Everyone she met had to ask for help, to reach a second floor, to get more time to take an exam or just to be taken seriously.

Dependent on a wheelchair since contracting polio as a child, Ms. Ali began her journey as a rights activist when a college administrator laughed her out of his office when she asked him to repair an elevator.

He did not fix the elevator. She moved on to other battles.

One day this month in the Kurdish village where Ms. Ali was born, she visited a 27-year-old blind woman, Zahra Sheikhi, whose parents kept her and her sister, who is also blind, at home for all of their childhood, out of shame, Ms. Ali said.

With Ms. Ali’s help, Ms. Sheikhi has learned to play a lutelike instrument called the tanbour, occasionally performs in public and is hoping to move away from home. “My family is always around,” she said. “They don’t allow me to live.”

In Aleppo, where Ms. Ali lives with her parents, she visited Saghatel Basil, 33, a university student who lost his sight because of diabetes a few years ago. Mr. Basil said that Syria had recently installed traffic signals for blind people but that many of them did not work.

His disability had prompted Mr. Basil to try his hand at local government. “I am trying to improve the idea of citizenship,” he said. “It is still weak. Maybe because I’m blind, I have a big hope that things will change.”

A conference in Damascus this month, attended by Ms. Ali and the first lady, reflected another type of opening blessed by the government, the spate of recent visits by international groups.

An American nonprofit group, the Open Hands Initiative, brought young Syrians and Americans with disabilities together for what the group’s founder, Jay Snyder, said was an attempt at person-to-person diplomacy. Mr. Snyder said that his group’s trip to Syria was approved quickly and that no one from the government restricted what they could discuss.

“Part of the challenge we face in Syria,” Mrs. Assad said at the gathering, “is how do you take incredible people and incredible ideas and make them an incredible reality?”

A young man in a wheelchair, Abdulrahman Mella Hussein, 20, offered an answer. “We should be doing something in our own countries,” he said. “We should not be sitting in a corner.”

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

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August 28th, 2010, 6:32 pm


57. LeoLeoni said:

Dr. Landis, Thank you for your article on Zaki Al Arsuzi’s view.

I do agree with many of the points that Zaki Al Arsuzi provided, especially that the Arabs before Islam were very tolerant of other people’s faiths. Pre Islamic Arabia contained Monotheists, Polytheists, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians (Eastern Arabia) and Atheists (mentioned in the Qur’an as Dahryeen, those who view the world has no beginning and no end). In Yathrib (Madina), the Jews and Polytheists lived together for centuries. Christians were found mostly in Northern Arabian Peninsula. Although I don’t know if that is enough to constitute describing that age as a golden one, because the Arabs were not able to form an independent political entity or government beyond tribal affiliations. The Ghassanids in Northern Arabia, who policed the Bedouins from the South, were subordinates to the Byzantines. The same can be said of the Lakhmids in North East Arabia, who were subordinates to the Persians. The Yemenites also had to depend on the Persians to push away the Ethiopians who were loyal to the Byzantines. I do view the Abbasids on the other hand on being the Golden age of the Arabic culture and Islam.

I have a very deep problem with Zaki Al Arsuzis racial theory. His analysis on how the Arabs were great before Islam because they were pure and started to suffer when they mixed with other races has no academic or scientific basis whatsoever. In fact, during the Abbasid age, the Arabs mixed with various other people and ethnicities and were able to create a golden age of knowledge and science in Mesopotamia and Persia. It was the tolerance and freedom of the time that gave the great minds of the period the opportunity to translate the books of knowledge from the Greeks, Syrians, Persians, and Indians into Arabic, and Dar al Hikma of Baghdad becoming the Library of Alexandria of its time. Prosperity, stability, and development, in all spheres of life, do not stem from race or religion, but stem from knowledge and proper governance that has the right blend of liberty and justice. It was that age that created the likes of Ibn Sina (A Persian), and Al Razi (A nonreligious agnostic), who both wrote in Arabic.

Zaki al Arsuzis racial theory did not come from void. He lived during turbulent times in the 1930s and 1940s, when Alexandretta (his home city) was annexed from Syria and given to the Turkey by France. Ultra-nationalistic movements and ideals were a major force in Europe at the time. Racial theory was the standard in Germany, and to a lesser degree in Italy. There is no doubt that many of the nationalistic thinkers of the time, whether Zaki Al Arsuzi, Antun Saadah, Sate’ al Husari, Michel Aflak, Salah Bitar.. were deeply influenced from the nationalistic ideologies and currents in Europe at the time (Many of them studied in Europe as well).

It’s unfortunately that many in Syria, and less so in other parts of the Arab speaking countries, still cling unto these nationalistic ideals that were developed throughout the first half of the 20th century. Racial theories have been thrown out of academia long time ago. No doubt that today, the world is becoming closer and closer together, but not by nationalistic means, but because of economic ones. Mutual economic interests is what makes people develop, not ideals based on religion or race. They Europeans realized this after WW2. Many other regions in the world are following suit (North America, South East Asia, etc.). Unfortunately, we are still stuck between the rock and the hard place, religion and nationalism, and can’t seem to look beyond that.

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August 28th, 2010, 6:43 pm


58. majedkhaldoun said:

Elie said
Thus, God orders in 4:59 and in dozens of similar verses: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.”
Previously Elie said the prophet words are not to obey in Islam.
this is backtracking
Elie please note that there is no coersion in Islam .In Quran it is mentioned LA IKRAHA FI AL DEEN, there is no way a scholar like Ibn Taymiyyeh would have ignored this.
In Jahilyyah the morality was bad , for example when one is told that his wife gave birth to a girl he woud kill her(the neoborn) and burry her, some women marry by sex parties when she got pregnant she choose ine of ten men she had sex with and tell him he is the father and must marry her, also drinking was common, lottery was common,some men had 100 wives,all these were considered bad in Islam
Poetry was good in jahiliyah.

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August 28th, 2010, 7:12 pm


59. LeoLeoni said:


The idea that Arabs before Islam would go around killing their their daughters is not true. Yes, some tribes practiced it, including Omar ibn al Khattab, but they were the minority and the exception. No rule can be made from the exception. If this practice was was the norm and not the exception as many Muslims would like to view, then there would have been severe shortage of women, especially when polygamy was permitted and many people with wealth were married to several women. Thus, whether from historical evidence or from logic, the idea that female infanticide was common has no basis.

The rest of the things you said are pure propaganda and I don’t see the point in refuting them one by one. But by you mentioning that “some men had 100 wives”, then I assume that you look down upon excessive polygamy. Since that is the case, how do you reconcile that with the fact that Muhammed had more than 10 wives?

I highly recommend you to read books on Pre-Islamic Arabia. I will not refer you to any Western Acadamic, but if you get the chance, have a look at:

Jawad Ali: Al-Mufassal fi Tarikh al-Arab qabala al-Islam (History of Pre-Islamic Arabs in Detail.)
These volumes are very dense and detailed, so if you want a shorter version, you can look at
Hussein Mourwa: Naza’at Al Madiya fi al Falsafa al Arabia wal Islamia), the first volume deals with Pre-Islamic Arabia.

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August 28th, 2010, 8:00 pm


60. Norman said:

LeoLeoni ,

What you said is very interesting and makes a lot of sense ,

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August 28th, 2010, 8:04 pm


61. Norman said:

LeoLeoni ,

What do you do and how you know all that ,?

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August 28th, 2010, 8:08 pm


62. qunfuz said:

fascinating discussion. Excellent comments from Leoleoni (although I think there are also non-racial motives for nationalism). Joshua, is this article on Arsuzi published anywhere? I’d love to read the whole thing.

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August 28th, 2010, 10:29 pm


63. Elie Elhadj said:


You said in 58: “Previously Elie said the prophet words are not to obey in Islam. this is backtracking”.

I never said such a thing. Read for example: http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=5517

I never deviated from my belief that:

Obedience to authority is the hallmark of Islam’s political theory. In the harsh environment of the Arabian Desert, disobedience and strife could waste scarce water and staples. The Prophet Muhammad, a product of desert living, enshrined obedience to authority into the Islamic Creed. In 4:59, the Quran orders: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” The Prophet has also reportedly said: “Hear and obey the emir, even if your back is whipped and your property is taken; hear and obey.

You said: “Elie please note that there is no coersion in Islam. In Quran it is mentioned LA IKRAHA FI AL DEEN, there is no way a scholar like Ibn Taymiyyeh would have ignored this.”

But, Taki Al-Din Bin Taymiyya did teach that the essence of government “was the power of coercion” (A. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1983, p. 14). Please consult your sources.

You said:” In Jahilyyah the morality was bad , for example when one is told that his wife gave birth to a girl he woud kill her(the neoborn) and burry her, some women marry by sex parties when she got pregnant she choose ine of ten men she had sex with and tell him he is the father and must marry her, also drinking was common, lottery was common,some men had 100 wives,all these were considered bad in Islam.”

LEOLEONI’s response in 61 is well put. I might add regarding your point: “Some men had 100 wives”, that under Shari’a law a man can have 100 wives, many more, albeit not simultaneously. That a man can marry four wives simultaneously and can divorce any one on them without giving cause translate to unlimited polygamy. For example, can a man not marry four wives simultaneously and divorce one women every month? Crazy as this sounds, such a man can, nonetheless, marry during a period of 100 months 100 wives and keep within Shari’a rules. I am certain that over the long sweep of Islamic history, there were men who did that, possibly more.

As for your other points, as LEOLEONI said, these are “pure propaganda”.

I might also add that these derogatory images have been painted by the ulama to contrast an enlightened Islam against the darkness of the pre-Islamic era. Evidence is the key here and there is no credible evidence to support the ulama’s tales. Having faith in and believing what the ulama have constructed is no evidence and should be discarded by smart people.


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August 29th, 2010, 4:34 am


64. Badr said:

MAJIDKHALDOUN: “Previously Elie said the prophet words are not to obey in Islam. this is backtracking.”
ELIE: “I never said such a thing.”


Perhaps the reason for the confusion is what you said here: “… the ulama succeeded in enshrining the Sunna traditions as a source of law equal to the Quran; notwithstanding, that the Quran never made the Sunna a source of law. The Quran contains every thing mankind needs to know.” I’ve pointed out earlier, that this statement is objectively incorrect.

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August 29th, 2010, 6:47 am


65. majedkhaldoun said:

It is not propaganda,it is documented that Abu Sufian fathered The Khalifa Maawiya by sex party,Hind invited ten men to her tent and had sex with them,as she became pregnant she told Abu Sufian that this is his child and he married her,in Jahiliyyah adultary was common to some people with no penalty.
As for marriage and divorce this can happen here in USA. I knew a man who married eight times,and I knew a woman who married four times
there was a man who said ,after he converted to Islam,thanks God that I knew Islam before I met Muslems, Islam is not responsible for individual behavior.
Secularism is defined as rejection of religion,in other word it is antireligion,you would be someone who does not believe in God if you are strict secularist,and you would be against all religions not just against Islam ,you praised christianity and judaiism in the past ,so you stand as anti-Islam,not anti religion,those who respect religions are advocate of civil law system,not true secularist, Do you believe in God? if you do then you do what God says in your religion.

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August 29th, 2010, 7:13 am


66. Elie Elhadj said:

Hello Badr,

Thanks for the clarification.

I continue to stand by the statement: “The ulama succeeded in enshrining the Sunna traditions as a source of law equal to the Quran; notwithstanding, that the Quran never made the Sunna a source of law. The Quran contains every thing mankind needs to know.”

Why do I stand by this statement? Because, as I wrote in 53:


“The basis upon which the early ulama argued to recognize the Sunna as a source of law equal to the Quran was the belief that God’s will was manifested in the Sunna as confirmed by the Quran’s (8:20): “O you who believed, obey God and his apostle.” They contended that the actions and sayings of the Prophet reflected the general provisions of the Quran and gave guidance in matters on which the Quran was silent.”

It is appropriate to add here that, incorporating the attributed sayings and actions of the Prophet into Islamic Shari’a made the Prophet more than the deliverer of God’s message. He became “the divinely certified exemplar, whose practice itself had a revelatory status: it was through his personal words and acts, and only his, that the commands of the Quran could be legitimately interpreted” (Marshall G. S.Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization: The Classical Age of Islam, Vol. 1, University of Chicago Press, 1977, p. 328).

I also said in 53: “The Indian Islamic thinker Muhammad Ashraf observed that it is curious that no caliph or companion found the need to collect and write down the Hadith traditions for more than two centuries after the death of the Prophet (Guillaume, Islam, 1990, 165).”

Further, “Abu Saiid Al-Khudari reportedly said that the Prophet had said: “Do not write from me anything except the Quran and whoever has written anything from me other than the Quran should erase it” (Muhammad Mustafa Azami, Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature, 1977, 28).”


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August 29th, 2010, 7:52 am


67. majedkhaldoun said:

The order not to write Hadith was early in Islam later on this order was deleted,the prophet allowed ir,if you studied Islam you would recognise its deletion

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August 29th, 2010, 8:12 am


68. Joshua said:

LeoLeoni, I couldn’t agree with you more about the characteristics of the Abbasid age that made it the center of Western learning. I also agree with you about the prevalence of such racial theories in the “age of fascism” in Europe and indeed the globe. Racial theories of history came to dominate the understanding of human progress at the end of the 19th century. Arsuzi was a product of his age – as were most of the nationalists who came of age during the interwar period. Nicely explained. Thanks, Joshua

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August 29th, 2010, 8:18 am


69. Norman said:

Subject: Fw: رسالة الأب الياس زحلاوي إلى القس الأمريكي الذي دعا لحرق القرآن الكريم

رسالة الأب الياس زحلاوي إلى القس الأمريكي الذي دعا لحرق القرآن الكريم

كتب الأب الياس زحلاوي:

السيد القسيس تيري جونز المحترم

لقد قرأت دعوتك إلى احراق القرآن الكريم على نطاق العالم يوم الحادي عشر من أيلول (سبتمبر) القادم .

وقد جاء في نص هذه الدعوة أنك قسيس في إحدى كنائس فلوريدا بالولايات المتحدة الأمريكية .

تساءلت, وأنا كاهن عربي كاثوليكي من دمشق (سوريا)ماعسى أن تكون غايتك من تلك الدعوة وأنت قسيس أمريكي ؟؟؟

تساءلت ؟؟ وأسألك :ماعملك بوصفك قسيسا ؟؟؟

هل أنت قسيس مسيحي حقا يخدم الله في إحدى كنائس أمريكا ؟

أم أنك مواطن أمريكي وحسب يدّعي خدمة المسيح ؟؟؟

هل تراك استسلمت لأمريكيتك بدل أن تستسلم لمسيحيتك ؟؟؟

ما الذي تريده من دعوتك هذه ؟؟

أن تؤجج مزيدا من الأحقاد بين الشعوب ؟

وهل في ذلك ما ينسجم مع السيد المسيح الذي تمثله في نظر نفسك ونظر الكثيرين ؟؟؟

قل لي هل في شخصية يسوع في كلامه في سلوكه في مواقفه كلها مايبرر إن من قريب أو من بعيد مجرد التلميح إلى نفور ما أو حقد ما أو بغض مابين الناس جميع الناس ؟؟؟

أونسيت أن يسوع كان في كليته محبة وغفران وسلام

أونسيت ماعلّمنا يوم علّم تلاميذه والناس من بعدهم أن يقولوا للآب السماوي إله الجميع (واغفر لنا خطايانا كما نغفر نحن لمن أخطأ إلينا )

أونسيت أو تناسيت أن يسوع عندما كان معلقا على الصليب تنهال عليه الشتائم وكلمات الشماتة الدنيئة رفع صوته قائلا (يا أبتي اغفر لهم لأنهم لا يدرون ما يعملون)

فمن تراك تمثّل ؟ومن تراك تريد أن تهدي بدعوتك تلك ؟؟؟؟؟

أما كفاك ما جرى ويجري منذ 11أيلول (سبتمبر) عام 2001 من قتل وتدمير وتشريد وتجويع لمئات الملايين من الناس في شتى أرجاء الأرض بدءا من فلسطين وهي (وطن يسوع )على يد حكامك بالذات وعلى رأسهم جورج بوش الذي كان يدّعي الاتصال المباشر مع الله ؟

ألا ترى معي أنك بدعوتك تلك برهنت على غربتك الحقيقية عن يسوع وعلى حاجتك الملحّة إلى إعادة اكتشافه من جديد كي تكون قسيسا مسيحيا حقا يدعو مثل يسوع للمحبة الشاملة وللاحترام التام لكل انسان وللالتزام الكامل بتعاليمه الرائعة التي تدعو جميع المؤمنين به دون استثناء إلى الوقوف دائما في صف الفقراء والمظلومين والمحرومين ؟؟

أخي القسيس تيري جونز

هل لك أن تقول لي بكل صدق لوجاء يسوع اليوم في صف من تراه سيقف

أفي صف الأقوياء المتغطرسين الظالمين الذين يهيمنون على العالم وينهبون خيراته دون شبع ويستبيحون القوانيين والمعاهدات الدولية كلها ويقتلون الناس في أوطانهم ويدمرون البيوت فوق أصحابها ويشردونهم في أرجاء الأرض؟؟؟

أم سيقف في صف هؤلاء المظلومين والمحرومين والجياع والمشردين ؟؟

وهل تراك نسيت ماسيقول يسوع نفسه في يوم الدين لكل انسان يمثل بين يديه (كل مافعلتم بأحد أخوتي هؤلاء الصغار بي أنا فعلتموه )؟؟؟

هل تراك نسيت أو تناسيت أن يسوع لم يشر في حديثه عن يوم الدين إلى إنتماء أي إنسان لأي دين ؟؟؟

إنما هو أشار فقط إلى انتماء كل إنسان إلى بني البشر جميعا وإلى وقوفه مع المحرومين منه والمستضعفين والمظلومين في الأرض

فما بالك أنت القسيس المسيحي الأمريكي تقف مع الظالمين في بلدك الذين امتد ظلمهم حتى شمل العالم ؟؟؟؟

ألا تخشى المثول أمام يسوع في يوم الدين وأنت مثقل بما يثقل ضمائر حكامك الذين أعمتهم آلهة السلطة والمال والقوة والتخمة ؟؟

أخي القسيس تيري

هل تراني أظلمك إن رأيت أن نقمتك على الإسلام هي التي تبرر دعوتك المستهجنة تلك إلى إحراق كتاب المسلمين المقدس القرآن الكريم ؟؟

ولكن دعني أسألك أنا الكاهن الكاثوليكي السوري ماذا تعرف عن الإسلام ؟؟

يبدو لي أن في خلفية دعوتك لإحراق القرآن الكريم من الجهل بالمسيح والمسيحية ما يحملني على الإعتقاد بجهلك بالإسلام والمسلمين ؟؟؟

صدقني ليس في نيتي أن أدينك وليس في نيتي البتة أن أدخل معك في أي سجال ديني سواء منه ما يتناول المسيحية أو الإسلام إنما دعني أقترح عليك بعد أن صليت طويلا عملا مشتركا نقوم به أنا وأنت معا يوم الحادي عشر من أيلول القادم

تسألني أي عمل وأنت في فلوريدا وأنا في دمشق؟

هو ذا العمل الذي أقترحه عليك

إني أدعوك لزيارة سوريا حيث ستكون في ضيافتي وفي ضيافة أصدقائي الكثيرين من مسلمين ومسيحيين

فسوريا بلد تدين غالبية سكانه بالإسلام والمسيحييون فيه أصلاء ويعيشون فيه جنبا إلى جنب مع المسلمين منذ قرون وقرون

تعال ولا تخشى شيئا

تعال عساك تكتشف عن الاسلام والمسلمين ما يريحك ويفرحك ويفاجئك وما سيحملك حيث أنت اليوم في فلوريدا الجميلة على دعوة الناس الملحة إلى التعايش في احترام ومحبة وتعاون جميع الناس في أمس الحاجة إليها بدل الدعوة (اللا مسيحية إلى تأجيج الأحقاد والتناحر)؟؟

تعال إلى سوريا فتدهش بطبيعة الناس وإلفتهم وإيمانهم وعلاقاتهم وتعاونهم وانفتاحهم الودود على كل غريب

تعال إلى دمشق لأجعلك تعيش خبرة ماكانت لتخطر لا ببالك ولا ببال جميع كنائس الغرب وأساقفته وكهنته وقساوسته

تعال لترى وتسمع جوقتين (مسيحية وإسلامية)تسبحّان معا في الأعياد المسيحية والإسلامية الله الواحد الله الذي خلقنا كلنا والذي إليه مآلنا جميعا

أخي القسيس تيري

أدعوك أخي وأنا جاد في تسميتك أخا لي وفي دعوتي لك وإني لأنتظر منك كلمة لا غير

وثق بأنك ستجد لك في دمشق أخا بل إخوة كثيرين فأخبرني ولا تتأخر إني على موعد معك في دمشق

أسأل الله أن يجعل لقائنا هذا المرتجى بداية لطريق طويل ومشوق نشقه معا مع إخوة لنا كثيرين في دمشق والعالم وما أحوج العالم اليوم إلى طرق مشرقة

تعال فطريق دمشق في انتظارك

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August 29th, 2010, 11:00 am


70. Elie Elhadj said:

Hello Majid,

“It is not propaganda, it is documented that Abu Sufian fathered The Khalifa Maawiya by sex party.”

The story might be false, planted by the Abbasids or other enemies of Muawiya and the Umayyads. Even if the story were a true one, it cannot be generalized as a way of life of the entire pre-Islamic society. Orgies exist today in many cities but cannot be generalized as an acceptable way of life in those cities.

“In Jahiliyyah adultary was common to some people with no penalty”.

Misyar and mut’a marriage contracts and their recent derivatives are purely sanctioned adultary/prostitution.

“As for marriage and divorce this can happen here in USA”.

Of course it can happen in America and elsewhere. However, outside Shari’a countries, the law allows only one wife at any one time. Also, divorce is open to both the husband and the wife equally with the rights of the wife protected.

Your statement in 58 that during the pre-Islamic era “Some men had 100 wives”.

As I said in 63, under Shari’a a man can marry four wives simultaneously and if he divorces one wife per month he could end up marrying 103 wives in 100 months.

It would be relevant here to mention how far King Abdulaziz Al-Saud went under Shari’a law. Prof. Mudawi Al-Rashid wrote in her book “A History of Saudi Arabia” (2003, p. 75):

“Ibn Saud’s polygamous marriages and the number of his children astonished foreign and local observers. Among others Philby, Rihani,Hamza, Al-Zirkili, and Wahba documented Ibn Saud’s marital unions with subtle references to them being rather excessive, even in a polygamous society such as Arabia. Philby described an informal gathering with the king:

“The king then confessed to having married no fewer than 135 virgins, to say nothing of ‘about a hundred’ others, during his life, though he had come to a decision to limit himself in future to two new wives a year, which of course meant discarding two of his existing team at any time to make room for them. ((Philby 1952: 111)”.

Please don’t recount the wisdom of Shari’a, which allowed the king to unite the tribes by marrying their daughters.

“Secularism is defined as rejection of religion,in other word it is antireligion,you would be someone who does not believe in God if you are strict secularist”.

Secularism means divorcing religion from lawmaking. It does not necessarily mean that a secularist is a non-believer in God.

“you praised christianity and judaiism in the past ,so you stand as anti-Islam,not anti religion”.

I am 100% against religion in lawmaking, all religions with no exception that is. I always said that the West triumphed in spite of Christianity, not because of Christianity. So please do not jump into unwarranted conclusions and label me as “anti-Islam”. A freely democratically elected parliament of the people is the only body that should enact the laws in today’s society.

May I suggest that you read comment 86 in:

After considering the argument in 86, please tell the readers why a democratically freely elected representatives of the Muslim community, men and women, in every Muslim country to promulgate laws is not Islamic.

“Do you believe in God?

This question is not the issue. The issue is whether God’s seventh century law should prevail today. The answer is absolutely no.

In 67 you said: “The order not to write Hadith was early in Islam later on this order was deleted,the prophet allowed ir,if you studied Islam you would recognise its deletion.”

If such is the case, then why is it that no caliph or companion found the need to collect and write down the Hadith traditions for more than two centuries after the death of the Prophet, as the Indian thinker Muhammad Ashraf observed? (Guillaume, Islam, 1990, 165).”

Further, the traditionists’ accounts are suspect. They are dogmatic requiring faith to accept them instead of presenting credible evidence in support.


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August 29th, 2010, 11:58 am


71. Badr said:


How can what you said in no. 63: In 4:59, the Quran orders: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.”, jibe with your saying: … the Quran never made the Sunna a source of law… ?

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August 29th, 2010, 2:18 pm


72. Elie Elhadj said:

Hi Badr,

“Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you” is an injection to obey the Prophet, not to write down the Hadith.

The Prophet himself is believed to have proclaimed that no hadith is to be recorded in order to ensure that no one would confuse the Hadith with the Quran, the Hadith on God, the best of all Hadiths:

In 39:23, اللَّهُ نَزَّلَ أَحْسَنَ الْحَدِيثِ كِتَابًا مُّتَشَابِهًا مَّثَانِيَ تَقْشَعِرُّ مِنْهُ جُلُودُ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ

As mentioned in 66: “Abu Saiid Al-Khudari reportedly said that the Prophet had said: “Do not write from me anything except the Quran and whoever has written anything from me other than the Quran should erase it” (Muhammad Mustafa Azami, Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature, 1977, 28).”

This may explain why the caliphs did not compile the Hadith for some ten generations after the death of the Prophet.

Eventually, the debate over the issue was won by those who contended that the actions and sayings of the Prophet reflected the general provisions of the Quran and gave guidance in matters on which the Quran was silent.

If your question is to tell you my own opinion as whether or not “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you” jibes with saying that the Quran never made the Sunna a source of law, the answer is that it really is not for me to make such a judgment. On the issue of the collection of the Hadith, I wrote: http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?s=elie+elhadj

It should be noted that the statement: “The Quran never made the Sunna a source of law” relates to the first two centuries after the death of the Prophet while the debate among Muslims was in progress over the issue of the relationship between the Quran and the Hadith. The issue was settled 11 centuries ago.


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August 29th, 2010, 4:10 pm


73. Elie Elhadj said:

In comment no. 70 above to MAJIDKHALDOUN I made the following request:

May I suggest that you read my comment (to NORMAN) no. 86 (dated February 26, 2010).

With Professor Landis’ permission, may I extend this invitation to other SC readers to debate the issue of whether or not the argument I presented in 86 on February 26, 2010 can be invoked in order to elect democratic legislative assemblies in Muslim countries. For ease of reference, the following is comment 86.

86. ELIE ELHADJ said:



Your question is critical. It opens a whole new page.

To start with, replace Shari’a laws and courts by modern laws and judicial systems. At the top of the list is to enact personal status laws that would grant women the same legal rights as those of Muslim men.

To help such development, I contend that certain Prophetic statements and sayings ought to make it possible to modernize Shari’a laws by the agreement of a majority of Muslim men and women in Muslim countries, or by the agreement of a majority of their chosen representatives.

I would like to explain this thesis here, though the subject matter might be better suited for a separate posting and discussion.

For a thousand years the Sunni ulama have preached that the Islamic Shari’a is the unchangeable law of God sent to the Prophet Muhammad in the Arabic Quran to be the perfect way of life for the Arabians of the desert as well as for all mankind for all time.

However, according to more than one canonical Hadith collection, the Prophet reportedly said: “My community reaches no agreement that is an error” [The Six Books. The Hadith Encyclopaedia, Sunan Abi Dawood, Hadith tradition 4253, p. 1532; and Jame’ Al-Tirmithi, Ibid., Hadith tradition 2167, p. 1869; and Sunan Ibn Maja, Ibid., Hadith tradition 3950, p. 2713].

This Hadith makes the truth in all matters dependent on whatever the Muslim community agrees upon.

Why has Consensus of the Sunni Ulama, not the Consensus of the Muslim Community, become one of the four sources of Sunni law? Why has the Sunni ulama succeeded in substituting themselves for the “community” in the subject Hadith?

The answer is that before the advent of electricity, computers, telecommunications, and modern polling techniques the gauging of the Muslim community’s opinion in its far-flung lands was impossible. Under such conditions, the opinion of a caucus of religious experts was an acceptable pragmatic approximation to the Hadith’s requirement. The ulama’s specialist knowledge and relatively small numbers qualified them for the task. Indeed, this Hadith could have been behind the development of the Consensus of the Sunni Ulama concept, notwithstanding the weaknesses inherent in the selection process of the appointees to such bodies—who would qualify for membership in the caucus? who would select the appointee? etc.

In the modern age, however, electricity, computers, telecommunications, and modern polling techniques have made referendums on specific issues simple, just as these technologies have made the election of community representatives easy. Modern technology has rendered Consensus of the Sunni Ulama obsolete. On the other hand, due to modern technology, the word and spirit of the Hadith: “My community reaches no agreement that is an error” can now be observed more faithfully than ever before.

The subject Prophetic statement could have far reaching implications on law making in Islamic communities. In this regard, four issues may be raised:

The first issue relates to what constitutes the “community” in today’s world. Is it the body of all Muslims in their 55 sovereign Islamic kingdoms and republics? Or, is it the Muslims of each country separately? The answer is that since the Muslim peoples at present live in so many states, speak scores of languages, and belong to numerous ethnicities, pragmatism and realism suggest that until such a time as the nation of Islam, or umma, becomes unified into one state the word “community” ought to signify the Muslims of each Islamic country separately.

The second issue relates to who among Muslims in the “community” is eligible to vote or run for office. The answer is that every Muslim man or woman should be eligible to vote or run for office. In 16:97, God says in the Quran: “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure.” In 40:40: “Whoever does right, whether man or woman, and is a believer, will enter Paradise.” In 49.13: “Oh people, We created you men and women… The most honored of you in the sight of God is the most pious.” The Prophet has reportedly said: “All faithful in the sight of God are as equal as the teeth of a comb.”

The third issue relates to the degree of consensus needed to render an “agreement” valid. Does the “agreement” require the approval of every member of the community? Or, is the agreement of the community’s majority sufficient? In answer, the Prophet has provided the answer to this question. In the later part of the above-mentioned Hadith tradition (number 3950 in Sunan Ibn Maja’s collection), the Prophet reportedly added the statement: “In the event of disagreement, the opinion of the majority must prevail”.

The fourth issue relates to the subject matter(s) that might be covered in the “agreement”. Does “agreement” refer to a specific issue or to all issues in general? The answer is that since the Hadith did not specify a particular matter, nor did it exclude any, then the “agreement” may apply to any matter imaginable–theology, law, and rituals as well as secular matters.

The above four issues make it possible to conclude that the subject Hadith opens the door in Islamic countries to the creation of legislative chambers akin to Western parliaments.

It may be further argued that Muslim countries that hinder the emergence of such legislative chambers would be in violation of the subject Hadith.

The legislative powers of the legislative chambers allow Muslim representatives to enact laws that could evolve a different way of life from Shari’a laws. However, if Islamists manage to take control of their country’s legislative chamber, Shari’a laws will remain intact.

Western style parliaments are common in non-Arab Muslim countries. Populace Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey, countries representing more than 50% of world Muslims enjoy democratically elected parliaments. Although, except in the case of Turkey, peer pressure, caution, and self-interest have tended to limit law making initiatives outside traditional Islamic thought and precedents, the mere existence of democratically elected parliaments, let alone having, or having had, women presidents and prime ministers in these countries provides a solid platform for added momentum in modern law making in the future.

Arab countries, by contrast, lack democratic elections and independent parliaments.

While non-Arab Muslim countries possess important elements to modernize Islamic law, Arab rulers represent an obstacle in the way of progress into the laws of the modern age.


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August 30th, 2010, 2:11 pm


74. Badr said:


My argument I think, is really a simple logical one:
“obey God’s messenger” means “obey his actions and sayings”, which by definition of the Sunnah, is equivalent to saying “follow his Sunnah”, which refutes the assertion that the Quran never made the Sunna a source of law, irrespective of in which form the Sunna was presented. That’s all there is to it. 🙂

On another point, you previously said:
“A freely democratically elected parliament of the people is the only body that should enact the laws in today’s society.”
“I firmly believe that without religious reform there is no political reform.”
Now if both statements are true, do you see here a sort of a vicious circle, namely:
in order to enact a religious reform law, a freely democratically elected parliament is needed, which requires a political reform, which in turn requires first a religious reform!

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August 30th, 2010, 2:27 pm


75. Elie Elhadj said:


What you said is logical.

During the first two and half centuries following the death of the Prophet, however, and while the debate was raging over the relationship between the Quran and the Hadith this argument was put aside in favor of the other arguments, which prevented the collection of the Hadith for ten generations. Eventually, the debate over the issue was won, according to logic that you presented, by those who contended that the actions and sayings of the Prophet reflected the general provisions of the Quran and gave guidance in matters on which the Quran was silent.

You are correct. Under current conditions, it is a vicious circle. A prerequisite for political reform is religious reform and religious reform is most unlikely in Arab countries because Arab rulers and their palace ulama use the Islamic creed to help perpetuate their dictatorships.

73 above is intended as a way to break the deadlock, though I am certain that the interests of those who could be adversely affected by it would try to discredit the argument with all their might.

What do you think of the contention?


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August 30th, 2010, 3:28 pm


76. LeoLeoni said:

There is no evidence in the Quraan showing that “The Sunnah” ought to be interpreted and taken literally without taking into consideration the circumstances and context of time and place, in addition to the intentions and objectives of such actions and sayings. If this is agreed upon, then we can further say that the Sharia was never intended to be fixed in place. Legal texts are what many legal scholars call a living organism, where they have a dynamic meaning that would be relevant to the people in whom the laws and rules are applied on. What benefit would any law have if the contemporaneous society was not accounted for when interpreting the texts?

What strict literalists (IE: Salafis and their associates) do is restrict the interpretation of the law to the time of Muhammed’s life and the few generations that lived afterwards. These people are viewed the Salaf-al-Saleh, the righteous predecessors, and thus we ought to imitate and follow their paths. Modern society and its advancements are not accounted for. Ultimately, this creates a huge gap between the effectiveness and relevance of such laws and between the people whom the law is intended to affect. A small example of that is when we hear on TV or during Friday sermons a sheikh talk about the importance of eating with the right hand and how it’s sinful to do otherwise. This could have been relevant 1400 years ago, when people of the desert, lacking water resources, used their left hand to wipe their behinds when nature called for duty. Is that relevant today, to force many young kids who are left-handed, to use their right hand when eating, especially when the majority of us use improved sanitation utilities, including water, paper tissues, soap, etc?

What about the punishments that are mentioned in the Qura’an? Well, these were justified in a time when no prisons existed and when police enforcement was lacking. But what about today? Is it reasonable and would it serve justice to chop the hands of thieves and crucify or chop the heads of murderers in the public square simply because it was mentioned in the Qur’aan? Was it God’s intention to give us specific methods of execution to be applied in the absolute sense (all time and all place) or was his intention for us to serve proper justice using the necessary means which is left upon us to decide? Certainly, Omar ibn Al Khatab thought that the method of execution and punishment was simply a mean to an end, and that mean would be left to the people to decide upon depending on the circumstances. Evidence for that is clearly shown when he suspended the chopping of hands for larceny/theft when saw the punishment as ineffective and unjust when the people suffered poverty and starvation in the year of the drought. Omar ibn Al Khatab’s action should create an excellent precedent for Muslims to follow in that underlying reasoning, that the laws and punishments are relative in order to serve proper justice. Al Shafi’i, a legal scholar and considered by many to be the father of Islamic jurisprudence, alleged to have come to different conclusions when construing the Sharia when he was first based in Baghdad and then moved to Egypt. He placed a significant point on the cultural factors between the people of Baghdad and Egypt, and hence, that same law can not be applied the same way in both places.

The “frozen concepts reasoning” runs contrary to the spirit of the law. One of the most fundamental principles of legal interpretation is that laws are a living tree which, by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life. No society has ever progressed without taking this fundamental notion into consideration.

The way I understood Elie’s comment about religious reform is that it not only pertains to religious law, but religious reform in its totality, including the way we view clergy, the way we analyze texts, and the way we interpret the laws.

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August 30th, 2010, 4:32 pm


77. Elie Elhadj said:


The Salafis’ seventh century way of life you outlined may find their inspiration, in terms of content and applicability to all time in 6:38: “Nothing have we omitted from the Book” and 16:89: “We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things.”

These verses, additionally, may support the Quranists’ believe that the Quran is the only source of Islamic law. The verses also justify the contention of the Quranists who argue that since the Prophet’s conduct complied with the all-encompassing Quran then the Sunna is superfluous; neutralizing by that the Sunna supporters’ notion that the actions and sayings of the Prophet reflected the general provisions of the Quran and gave guidance in matters on which the Quran was silent.

What you said about Omar’s actions shows the importance of the “living organism” concept of legal text.

Shafei’s alleged different verdicts on the same issue in Baghdad and Egypt add credence to Omar’s action. Shafei attitude is particularly significant given that he was possibly the most vociferous advocate of equating the Sunna to the Quran as a source of law. His approach allows flexibility in applying Shari’a rules in both the Quran and the Sunna.

I add my voice to yours in saying: “One of the most fundamental principles of legal interpretation is that laws are a living tree and that: “No society has ever progressed without taking this fundamental notion into consideration.

You are perfectly correct is saying that religious reform “not only pertains to religious law, but religious reform in its totality, including the way we view clergy, the way we analyze texts, and the way we interpret the laws.”

Could you kindly look into my arguments in 73 above. Your input would be valuable. Thanks.


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August 31st, 2010, 3:55 am


78. Husam said:

Open Letter to Dr. Joshua Landis:

In the last couple of months, I found Syria Comment has become a one-faced advocate of Secularism and a launching pad regarding the reformation of Islam. While we have the regular News round up (I look foward to those), I am finding it harder lately to find a single article that doesn’t get hijacked and ends up in a discussion about Islam, Muslims, Khadija (PBUH), 100 wives, fatwas, etc…

Misyar is not prostitution as Elie advocates and I refuted this in the last post but the rabbit decided to jump back at it again as if nothing was discussed (chewing the same bone). Not only is this insulting and wrong but it is intellectually bankrupt. Elie also crafted and hideously co-branded Misyar with Mut’a which are essentially very different. I find it insulting that such bright minds here put up with repetitive B.S. I am tired of this cynical nature of this forum about Islam.

Evidently, even this current write up about Muslim Brotherhood, a political movement, turned into an analysis of Jahillya, cuting of hands, obey God, etc.. all of which has really nothing to do this article. I think Aron Jund was anticipating a lengthier candid discussion about the past, present, and future of MB in the Syrian context rather than reading Elie’s repetitive notions about Islam. There is nothing wrong with discussing other issues and Islam, absolutely not, but when at every turn Islamic Doctrine is debated it becomes tiring. Also, this is not because of taboos as some others mentioned, but because the drum beats with only one beat. All I hear is the same orchestra over and over again pounding the same tune with the same audience offering flowers and clapping. Joshua, you once told me not to chew the same bone, yet you yourself and many of your commentators do exactly that. Many comments about Islam are full of errors, distortions, and skewed interpretations without the theological qualification necessary to have any meaningful and productive outcome. The reason why there is no one here to refute the distortions and present other views (regardless of what they are) is because from readings of SC’s comments, going back a few years, I saw anyone that attempts to do so is immediately ridiculed. The old school gangs up on any person that criticizes any comments of its senior members. I am not kidding. Anyone that is against secularism or disagrees with reformation of Islam is automatically labelled Wahabist and host of other wrongful accusations. Alex has made it clear to me that there is seniority here on SC based on previous contribution; when pressed to clarify further he refused to respond – period. This is double standard. I was under the impression that SC prides itself in talking about propaganda openly and works for a better Syria but in reality this board is exclusive rather than inclusive (save for Jad, and a few others).

Albeit Syria’s many colors with a wide variety of beliefs and views, it remains a Sunni majority. Do they matter and do their voices count? If so, why aren’t they here in equal numbers? I could hear Elie screaming because they belong in Tora Bora or because they are stuck in the 7th century. Syria Comment’s majority seems to me portray a single view when it comes to what is best for Syria’s future – Secularism. Joshua, may I suggest respectfully that under your Syria Comment Logo have a slogan like “Towards a Secularist Syria” or something of that nature. This will better brand your Blog for what it really is and result in better transparency.

I am amazed frankly, to say the least, that not a single word from any of you regarding Elie’s continuous attack on Islam. You can have debates while still respecting other’s spiritual beliefs. I consider myself the run of the mill Syrian Sunni and the fact that I am the only one (save a few others) who give a damn about the continuous distortions about Islam and Muslims, is further support that SC has branded itself as a Secularist Blog rather than a neutral one. OTW and Jad mentioned this to me a while back but it only clicked to me until recently.

Anyone reading Dawkins, would realize that many theories Elie and some others make come straight out of this book. Also, no one discusses the pitfalls of secularism, which again supports my argument of exclusivity. For example, the scientific move by the Secularist in the US to sterilize poor people in the 20’s (Buck Vs. Bell 1927) because they were viewed as scientifically unworthy of breeding.

What about:
– The inhalation of Native Indian Americans
– The modern enslavement of Africans
– The Church to marry one man to another
– The Killing of 1 million plus Iraqi including children
– The Wiping of Iraq back to the stone age in the name of Freedom.
– The Imprisonment of David Irvine for merely questioning the number of dead in the Holocaust
– The owning of 15,000 Nuclear Warheads
– The dropping of Nuclear warheads on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
– The killing of 3 million Vietnamese
– and the list goes on and on.

This to me is more barbaric than cutting of the hand. Of course, America is the ultimate super power, but at what cost? All this happened under secularism which many here fathom. I know it is difficult to accept my criticism. I was told that if I don’t like it to just leave, and I think I have decided to do just that. I know many of you care less, and some will eve be very happy. But be reminded that there are many more millions of moderate Syrians like myself whom you have also effectively outcasted. They too will no be able to digest bigotry day in day out on SC.

Jad, OTW, Majedkhaldoun, Norman, Shai, and Joshua, I wish you all the best in everything you do.


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September 2nd, 2010, 1:46 am


79. Joshua said:

Dear Husam,

Thanks for your long letter of complaint. SC is not intentionally pushing secularism, although I do admit to being partial to it myself. I have invited Elie to post some of the articles he has written for SC. But I have also invited you and other commentators who object to secularism and would like to see some form of government that incorporates a Sunni or religious sensibility that would presumably be popular with Syria’s majority Sunnis. You have not done so, instead you get annoyed that Elie has pushed his articles to the top.

I do not restrict the content of the comment section, save to discourage insults, abuse, and attempts to drive out diversity or dominate with one line of conversation.

You complain that Elie and an “old guard” pro-secularist SC crowd is driving out those with a Muslim or Sunni sensibility. I do not want this to happen. It is not the policy or intention of Syria Comment. I appreciate you, al-Masri, Badr, Shami, Majedkhaldoun and many others who argue the Sunni or an Islamist perspective. I would again stress that I would like to publish articles by you on Islamic topics that you feel are relevant to Syria today. I would love to publish a series on the top Imams of Syria and what they argue or the controversies that they deal with.

There is no attempt to shut out your opinions. On the contrary, I welcome them as they are a vital part of the Syrian story and cultural scene. At the same time, I do not want to exclude Elie or others who have strong opinions – so long as the discourse is informative and polite. I find Elie to be very smart and informed. I understand that he can be provocative and sometimes even annoying, but I think the debates of late have been most interesting.

Don’t get insulted – counter.

With much respect, Joshua

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September 2nd, 2010, 11:17 am


80. Ghat Al Bird said:

The winners according to the take of the US msm are…..?


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September 2nd, 2010, 3:42 pm


81. Akbar Palace said:

Baathism and Academia: Kissin’ Cousins

Professor Josh reassures the readers of Syria Comment:

(with a caveat)

I do not restrict the content of the comment section, save to discourage insults, abuse*, and attempts to drive out diversity or dominate with one line of conversation.

*or articulate Israelis like AIG

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September 2nd, 2010, 6:38 pm


82. Shami said:

Dr Landis ,religious bigotry has never been so important and invasive in syrian society as today.
I’m sure that if Syria and Egypt did not suffer from this kind of mediocre regimes since the end of the 50’s, the syrian and egyptian societies would be advanced societies today.
And other thing ,Islam is not an imami or clerical religion ,anybody can call himself an imam(the worker ,the engineer,the teacher,the physician).Clericalism within Islam is considered as an heretical development and will be eradicated by those who suffer from it .(Khomeinism)

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September 3rd, 2010, 9:04 am


83. Mahjool said:


To be honest, I have to disagree with you. What Elie and others preach has nothing to do with secularism. Since when belittling other people’s religion and believes was called secularism? In a true secular society, I am allowed to worship monkeys and to think that I can take up 100000 wives as long as it does not interfere with the laws of the lands. Secularism is a political platform where government institutions are earthly and not divine. Period.

Combating religions and religiousness falls under cultural clash and war of ideas. Religions are few thousands years old products, and naturally one can drill a lot of holes in them. Islam becomes a danger to others when it turns into a dictatorship with a heavenly doctrine. I suggest that secularist focus on this point as apposed to attacking theology.

By the way most so called seculars in Syria are very sectarian, i.e. believe in advancing the interest of their own sects, which by the way does not interfere with secularism it’s just sectarian. It’s really motivated by fear of the hegemony of the majority.

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September 3rd, 2010, 11:52 am


84. Badr said:


Professor Landis,

I don’t claim to be arguing a Sunni or an Islamist perspective. I think my disagreement with a particular statement of Mr. ELHADJ’s is based on objective facts. And if I disagree with him on any other issue, it is certainly not due to a Muslim or Sunni sensibility, I feel inside me.

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September 3rd, 2010, 2:36 pm


85. Badr said:

I should have added: “may or may not” immediately before “feel inside me” in the previous comment.

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September 3rd, 2010, 4:39 pm


86. Shami said:

The caviar of revolutionary Syria:

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September 3rd, 2010, 10:25 pm


87. LeoLeoni said:


I have been very busy lately and I did not have a chance to visit to comment here. My apologies.

I totally agree with your analysis on 73, but I find that the majority of Arab countries have legislative chambers similar to ones found in Europe, with the exception of the Gulf region. The chambers exist and the majority agrees to its necessity, but they strongly disagree on how it should function. For example, the legislative branch lacks independence. It most cases, it acts part of the executive branch. In Syria, the president has powers to enact laws without referring to the legislative branch. Many other Arab countries have emergency laws that basically cripple of the proper function of the legislature. Also real opposition in the legislative assemblies are hardly to be found. The political majority refuses to share power with the opposition, even the secular opposition. I know for a fact that it was not the Islamists or political Islam as an ideology that destroyed our legislative process, as they barely had any influence back in the 50s and 60s. We would have to go into a deep analysis of the nationalist policies of the 50s and 60s in order to understand what led us to our dire situation today. Unfortunately, this discussion is considered by many, including our government, a red line. I am afraid that we can not move anywhere if we do not review the past, admit our mistakes, turn the page, and move forward.

It is also important to note that the Muslims and Arabs have not come up with a secular ethical philosophy which could help with the legislative process. This happened in Europe during the age of reason and enlightenment, where secular philosophers discussed ethics separately from religion, including Hobbes, Spinoza, Kant, Bentham, J.S Mill, etc. Most Arabs and Muslims of the Middle-East closely associate and almost tie ethics with religion and view them together synonymously. Even the “mothaqafeen” in the region have not dared to step into this area, with the likes of Jabri, Arkoun, Abu-Zayd, all discussing the reformation of Islam from within without providing a feasible alternative. I think it will take sometime and effort before these issues are touched upon.


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September 5th, 2010, 9:26 pm


88. elie Elhadj said:


Thank you sincerely for 87. Very helpful, indeed.

I do agree that where parliaments exist in Arab countries, generally in Arab military republics, the legislative problem lies in the fact that the “legislative branch lacks independence” and that in “most cases, it acts part of the executive branch.” Such assemblies are sadly no more than rubber stamp bodies in the hand of the military dictator.

As for those Arab states that disallow the emergence of parliaments, like most kingdoms and GCC states, I am gratified that you find my approach to analysing the said Hadith, and its policy implications, sound. I suppose that you would also agree with my conclusion that Muslim states that hinder the emergence of legislative chambers in their systems of governance would be in violation of the subject Hadith; notwithstanding, the claim that they enshrine the Quran and the Sunna as their constitution, like Wahhabi Saudia, Taliban controlled areas, and their offshoots.

You are correct in saying that: “Muslims and Arabs have not come up with a secular ethical philosophy which could help with the legislative process” and that most Arabs and Muslims of the Middle-East closely associate and almost tie ethics with religion and view them together synonymously.”

The first step, I believe, in the process of freeing the mind from the control of the holy scripture, any holy scripture, is to start asking serious questions about the sensibilities (or lack of), the contradictions, and the inconsistencies in the scripture and mustering the courage to allow one’s own brain to deal with such issues logically and philosophically without the fear of falling into heresy or blasphemy.

Thanks again for taking the time to consider 73.


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September 6th, 2010, 3:38 am


89. farabi said:


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May 13th, 2011, 4:13 pm


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