Tunisia’s Rachid Ghannouchi on Islamic democracy

Qantara.de, a Germany-based publication promoting Western-Islamic dialogue, yesterday published an interview by Daniel Bax and Tsafrir Cohen (translated by Katy Derbyshire) with Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s mainstream Islamist party, Ennahda. That party, which initially led the country’s transition government after the December 2010 revolution, recently lost the first regular legislative and parliamentary elections, and it is now the largest opposition party in the Assembly.

Below are some excerpts from the interview that I found particularly interesting.

On the new constitution (background) and on Islamic democrats:

…we’re very proud of this constitution. We not only supported it; we also helped develop it. I don’t regard it as a secular constitution, but as one that unites Islam, democracy and modernity. We don’t see any conflict between moderate secularism and moderate Islam. There are Christian democratic parties in many European countries, such as Germany; elsewhere, there are democratic parties with Buddhist or Hindu backgrounds. Why should there not be Islamic democratic parties?

On the right to non-belief and secularism in an Islamic society:

…Islam guarantees freedom of religion and conscience, and that this applies in both directions: for adopting and rejecting the faith.

On the internal diversity and divisions of Islam (background):

There have always been different schools of thought throughout the history of Islam. But for 14 centuries of Islamic history, Islamic societies have always been pluralist and accepted people who followed other religions or none at all, and guaranteed this freedom and diversity. This acceptance of diversity is not something we had to import from the West either. When we look at Western countries, acceptance of diversity only evolved there after the Renaissance. Before that, there were religious wars that lasted for decades.

On universal rights:

Q: The French Revolution is regarded as the birth of enlightenment, democracy and human rights. What’s your position on these values?

Ghannouchi: The Tunisian constitution is founded on two pillars: the principles of Islam and the principles of modern society and human rights, which are a product of the Enlightenment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [in 1948] was drawn up by people of many different cultural origins.

Q: There is also an “Islamic Declaration of Human Rights”, which was drawn up in 1990 by several Muslim states and which deviates from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a number of points, for instance on equal rights for women and men or rights for minorities. What do you think of it?

Ghannouchi: It represents an attempt to combine the principles of Islam with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But for me, there’s no contradiction between human rights and Islamic values. We accept that in our constitution, and that’s also part of the foundations of my thinking.

He also addressed the country’s severe terrorism recruitment problem, but he mainly attributed that to the decades of misery under repressive rule, which only began to end four years ago.


24 violations of Islam by ISIS according to over 100 Sunni scholars

To fight rampant Islamophobia, here are 16 pages of Sunni Islamic scholarship on religious violations committed by the so-called “Islamic State”, as assembled and exhaustively footnoted by 126 Sunni Muslim scholars of the religious texts and prominent Sunni Muslim religious and political leaders from at least 40 countries, in an open letter to the leader and followers of ISIS. Their hope is that it will not only serve as a public, internal Islamic rebuttal to the terrorist organization’s assertions of an Islamic State but also sway conservative Muslims who might sympathize with the group’s hardline approach.

Below is 24-point executive summary ahead of the full (and very readable) explications of each violation and news citations of the relevant abuses:

Executive Summary
1- It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an — or part of a verse — to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry-pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.
2- It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.
3- It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
4- It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.
5- It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
6- It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
7- It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.
8- Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.
9- It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.
10- It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat — in any way —Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.
11- It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.
12- The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.
13- It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
14- It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
15- It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
16- It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct procedures that ensure justice and mercy.
17- It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
18- It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
19- It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God.
20- It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
21- Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.
22- It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
23- Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
24- After the death of the Prophet, Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.

I learned a ton of new information from reading the whole letter, which can be just as easily applied against ISIS as against bigots who paint Islam with an overly broad brush (despite its natural complexity and disunity).

Thanks to a reader for bringing this document to my attention.

Selected highlights (lowlights?) from the new Pew religion poll

The new huge Pew Form report on politics and religion in America is out now. It’s one of the most discouraging I can remember in the past 5 years. The proportion of people who think there should be more religion in politics is up, the proportion who support same-sex marriage has leveled or dropped, the proportion who think being gay is a sin is up, and the Christian right is still agitating for being allowed more direct political involvement by their churches. The more things don’t go their way, the more they dig in.

That’s the tip of the iceberg, but there’s a lot more in the report. The only good sign I’ve picked out of the report so far is that most Democratic voters polled said the party was representing their social views well. While it wasn’t necessarily overwhelmingly true on specific issues, it seems to be more true than before.

I suspect that’s a result of a combination of some non-aligned (i.e. socially conservative) Democratic voters dropping out of the party finally and the expulsion or reduced visibility of a number of anti-gay and anti-abortion Democratic candidates and elected officials in recent years — an important trend that I looked at in a recent post. Meanwhile, the more socially liberal or socially centrist Democrats in office have begun speaking more loudly and confidently in favor of gay rights and reproductive freedom. This whole process is ongoing, but it’s helping socially liberal base Democrats not feel alienated by loud and offensive conservative Democratic officeholders and underrepresented by those who agree with them.

Ted Cruz successfully tests new levels of condescension, is booed off stage

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz seems to have decided to take the opportunity of a speech to Middle Eastern Christians to attack Arabs broadly (and Palestinians more narrowly) for the benefit of his 2016 presidential aspirations. This didn’t go over very well.

The brand of conservative, American evangelicalism that Cruz often champions—one that often aligns itself with the state of Israel’s interests—did not sit well with everyone in attendance. Cruz was keynoting a gala for In Defense of Christians (IDC) […] a conference bringing together a range of Middle Eastern Christians—Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, Syriac, Lebanese, Assyrian, to name a few—to foster a new sense of unity in the midst of a politically fraught season.

Sidebar: Not everyone in those various Christian sects are ethnically Arab, but they are generally of the various Semitic populations of the region. Anyway, he clearly seemed to suspect they weren’t “real” Christians — which is a pretty sore spot given the history of intra-Christian feuding over 2,000 years — and wanted to tell them about their own history.

He then told them they were “consumed with hate,” as they started booing his blind defense of Israel and insisted that Israel was the region’s greatest friend of Arab Christians — as if Christians pushed out or occupied by Israel might not have some pretty strong, unaddressed grievances with Israeli policy.

“…today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.” His audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel began to boo. At first, Cruz continued undeterred. “Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America. And those who hate Jews hate Christians.” The booing got louder.

Cruz pressed on, adding that his heart “weeps that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals who seek to murder them.”

Weird, because this year’s conference was focused on the ISIS expulsions of Christians and the organization is quite focused on persecution by radicals.

Later on Facebook, he suggested they were anti-Semitic because of how they responded. Leave it to Ted Cruz to call a room full of Middle Eastern Semitic peoples “anti-Semitic” because they disagree with his views on Israel. Knee-jerk hatred of Arabs, which Cruz clearly has, seems way more anti-Semitic.

American Evangelical Conservative Christianity isn’t even good for actual Christians around the world, let alone anyone else, including Jewish Israelis. It’s always condescending and patronizing and ignorant — constantly trying to lecture and “save” people with no regard to their history or life experiences.

An event leader tried to brush off the booing as an inappropriate reaction by a minority of the audience, as if the speech and his reaction to being heckled had not been the problem. Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, who has a large constituency of Syrian-Americans and Lebanese Americans, strongly criticized the speech (which he was present for) and Cruz’s response to the heckling:

“I support Israel, but what Senator Cruz did was outrageous and incendiary,” Dent said. “He showed a true lack of sensitivity for the people he was speaking to, especially the religious leaders who were there. It was a political speech, inappropriate and, overall, an uncomfortable moment.”

Dent added that Cruz seemed to be speaking “for another audience” beyond the ballroom that would later watch the video.

“He was speaking to people outside of the building,” Dent said. “It was a willful and deliberate confrontation, and very self-serving.”

Middle Eastern Americans were a Republican-leaning constituency in the 1980s and into the 1990s. Between this kind of insulting rhetoric/baiting and the anti-Muslim/anti-Arab hate crimes that increased after 9/11 (but began much earlier), it’s no wonder Republicans have lost touch with this potential base.

Who are the Yazidis at Mount Sinjar right now?

Yesterday, U.S. and Turkish relief military operations began to try to help tens of thousands of displaced Yazidi Iraqi civilians who have been surrounded without food or water at Mount Sinjar, a Yazidi holy site, by ISIS forces.

These civilians belong to a long-suffering minority religious sect based in Iraq, and their latest oppressors at ISIS have shown themselves to be deeply inflexible toward even their own fellow Sunni Muslim Arabs. The Yazidi adherents are a predominantly Kurdish-speaking people but are very close-knit and inward-looking, like many of the very small Middle Eastern minority religious groups, most of which also prohibit marriage outside the faith on pain of death.

For global perspective, the Yazidi population has faced over 70 different concerted attempts in history to exterminate their entire population. This is done on the grounds they are “devil worshipers,” in an apparent misinterpretation of their monotheistic fusion doctrine that merges elements of Islam, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and a range of other Mesopotamian, classical, and pre-modern Middle Eastern faiths from the northern Iraq and western Iran areas. The primary point of contention is that they believe God’s most favored archangel (Azazel/Lucifer) did not fall from grace (to become Shaitan/Satan) and should be revered for refusing to bend to mankind on the orders of God, because he was actually complying with earlier orders from God not to bow to anyone, and God made him the leader of the archangels as a reward for remembering that.

The Yazidis are now a relatively small sect worldwide (no more than 700,000 and possibly less than 250,000). There are 40,000-50,000 members trapped on the mountain right now. It’s difficult to keep track of their current numbers after more than a decade of nationwide unrest in Iraq, but that figure may amount to more than half the remaining homeland/Iraqi population of Yazidi followers.

In 2007, New York Times reported at the time, terrorists detonated four bombs that were so big they flattened two entire towns full of Yazidis. The eventual death toll was estimated at just under 800, making it the second worst terrorist attack in modern world history — and one that further shrank an already endangered community.

Location of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. (Credit: Urutseg on Wikimedia)

Location of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq. (Credit: Urutseg on Wikimedia)

Tomb of the Prophet Jonah blown up outside Mosul

In the continuing battle over the religious future of the city of Mosul, the modern heir to the Biblical city of Nineveh, the Tomb of Jonah (also known as the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus, after his Arabic name) was blown up today. Video showed the structure being completely leveled by explosives.

The Mosque, previously a Church and originally part of an Assyrian palace complex, was supposed to be the burial ground of the 8th Century BCE prophet most famous for being swallowed by a fish when he tried to avoid going to Nineveh to preach. Today the area is a suburb of Mosul, which lies across the river from where Nineveh stood.

Government officials blamed ISIS for the attack, which seems to be the case. It was not immediately obvious exactly why the extremist Sunni Islamist would target a Sunni Mosque of significance to the core of Islam. Jonah/Yunus is one of the crossover figures from the Hebrew Bible, Christian Old Testament, and Quran.

However, ISIS has reportedly destroyed a number of other Sunni Mosques in Mosul already since capturing it in June, perhaps to remove competition against their hardline views.

Less than a week ago, ISIS expelled all the Christians from the city for the first time in 18 centuries.

Video still seconds after detonation of the minaret and building complex. Watch

Video still, seconds after detonation of the minaret and building complex. Watch

Congressional candidate: My Christian totalitarianism > Muslim totalitarianism

Georgia Congressional candidate, Baptist pastor, and right-wing radio host Jody B. Hice supports total hardline conservative Christianization of the United States society and government, while simultaneously arguing that main problem with Islam is its (purported) totalitarian control of territory and the political system.

“Most people think Islam is a religion,” Hice argued in a 2011 speech. “It’s not. It’s a totalitarian way of life with a religious component.” He expanded in his book: “It is a complete geo-political structure, and as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”


In 2012, Hice published It’s Now Or Never: A Call to Reclaim America via WestBow Press, a Christian self-publishing house. In the book, he made the dubious claim that the “Constitutional form of government that is the great American experiment is a distinctly Christian society,” To “reclaim America,” he argues, the nation must end abortion, prevent same-sex marriage, repeal hate-crime protections…

Does anyone have recommendations on a lawyer who can help me sue him for whiplash?

And before anyone clambers onto their high horse about “crazy Republicans,” let’s just remember that irrational U.S. anti-Muslim bigotry like this is virtually boundless, cross-partisan, and intense. Read more