The news of a French schoolteacher who was mercilessly beheaded for showing pictures of the Prophet to his students recently made media headlines. The analysis-based responses are varied to this incident, though I hope everyone would condemn this dastardly act without any ifs and buts. Put simply there is no provocation or justification for such a heinous act of murder.
Demonstrators like the one shown here carried "I am Samuel" signs as they gathered on Place de la République in Paris on Sunday to pay tribute to slain history teacher Samuel Paty. Similar gatherings took place in several other cities as France reels from the attack.
Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images
Some may argue that the news of the murder of a French teacher makes waves and Islam is put under trial but the mob lynching of Muslims in India, the detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and the suffering of the Palestinians go unaddressed.
However, by the same whataboutism technique, the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan and those of Bahais in Iran that go unchecked can also be raised. Likewise, the case of Junaid Hafeez, who remains in solitary confinement in Pakistan, can be highlighted. Similarly, the case of Aasia Bibi stands out, whose whereabouts in Canada cannot be revealed due to threats to her life based on blasphemy allegations.
All of this means that to retain focus, instead of deflection to other issues, we should concentrate on the French context in light of the recent incident, which is the latest in a series of horrific incidents including Charlie Hebdo in France.
On the one hand, is the insistence on freedom of expression, which Muslims can and should support for it has been part of Muslim culture through time. In terms of depicting the Prophet, Muslim art is a treasure trove containing paintings of the Prophet made by Muslims in the past. One only has to do a simple google search and all such images become accessible. Additionally, the Shia Muslim position remains that images of the Prophet especially those before Prophethood can be respectfully made.
Apart from pictures of the Prophet, in terms of written prose or poetry, Muslim values allow for free expression with due respect. For instance, the 8th-century jurist Abu Hanifa stated that even if an utterance is made up of 99 percent of disbelief, it would still not amount to disbelief. Likewise, the 9th-century scholar Al Razi, among others, were free to critique Prophets. There is also literature that depicts the Prophet admonishing 12th-century Muslim scholar al-Ghazali for rebuking Moses. Even today, there stands an Urdu proverb that goes Likhay Musa Parhay Khuda (only God can read the writings of Moses), which refers to bad handwriting. There is also Muslim literature from Rumi that caricatures the clergy and their long beards. Indeed, Rumi’s poem ‘Moses and the Shepherd’ remains a timeless classic.
To continue with this line of thought, while a vast majority of Muslims argue against taking the law into one’s own hands, some also argue that there exists no Qur'anic verse that prescribes the capital penalty for blasphemy. They have marshalled around two dozen Qur'anic verses to bolster their case. Pakistan-based Islamic scholar Dr. Khalid Zaheer states that the Qur'an simply asks Muslims to be patient and to ignore those who insult and ridicule the Prophet.
Girls light candles on Saturday outside the school where a slain history teacher worked in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northwest of Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron denounced what he called an 'Islamist terrorist attack' against the teacher, who was decapitated on Friday, urging the country to unite against extremism. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)
However, apart from freedom of expression, the issue of crude racism and Islamophobia in France also stands out. If young Muslim men and women face discrimination and prejudice in society, it certainly is not conducive to harmonious living. This contempt for the other is reflected when some observed how Charlie Hebdo captioned the pictures/drawings of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi with deep insensitivity and racism. That depiction emerged in a context where Muslim women who believe in wearing the headscarf were denied their right to do so. While, many religious scholars like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Moiz Amjad, Shehzad Saleem, and Khalid Zaheer argue that the headscarf is not an obligation, it is also true that the state has no right in policing the dress code of women. For France to dictate the removal of the headscarf is the equivalent of Iran or Saudi Arabia enforcing it. Whatever happened to freedom of choice that is supported by both secular and Islamic values?
We live in a time of short sound bites and angry outbursts, where people are less interested in listening to one another and more in foisting their adopted world view. It seems hearts have hardened and there is a clash of rigid worldviews. It is easy to shout slogans of liberty and freedom on the one hand or against racism and Islamophobia on the other hand. But to what end? Where does all of this take us?
The need of the hour is for people to look within. The French government will have to address what gives rise to racism and Islamophobia. They will have to carefully look at the message that is being sent out to their own Muslim citizens. The French President must take into confidence French Imams like Tareg Oubrou and listen to the voices of everyday French Muslims who are honest tax paying citizens of the Republic. Instead of pitting the state against them, he will have to show them that the state cares.
On their part, Muslims will have to look within to ask why some Muslims are preaching antiquated fiqh (jurisprudential) laws, developed in the age of Muslim empires, today. They will have to ask why rigid Muslim opinions on blasphemy and apostasy are being privileged over the more liberating ones, both of which emerge from the vast and diverse Muslim tradition.
However, if the French continue with their existing state policies and Muslims continue to let antiquated viewpoints go unchallenged, there will emerge no winners from such a clash of positions. Defensiveness must give way to dialogue.
In essence, the false binary of secular versus Islamic needs to be broken.
Junaid Jahangir is an Assistant Professor of Economics at MacEwan University. He is the co-author of Islamic Law and Muslim Same-Sex Unions. With Dr. Hussein Abdullatif, a paediatric endocrinologist in Alabama, he has co-authored several academic papers on the issue of same-sex unions in Islam.
At what is arguably the most important time in human history, with Homo Sapiens confronted by an enormous range of violent challenges that threaten our very survival, the only question of any genuine importance is this: Can we craft and implement a strategy to end the violence, particularly in each and all of its extinction-threatening dimensions, to ensure that humanity has a chance to thrive on planet Earth indefinitely into the future? But few are asking that question.
And, unfortunately, if one candidly considers the evidence in several critical domains – notably the threat of nuclear war, the deployment of 5G technology, the collapse of biodiversity and the climate catastrophe – there is little genuine room for optimism. This, of course, is not a reflection on the efforts of those committed to the attempt but it is a measure of the enormity of the task given the almost endless violence perpetrated by so many human inhabitants of Earth.
Moreover, of course, for most of 2020, the ongoing efforts by those committed to working to end violence in one context or another have not only been substantially impeded by the official response – including lockdowns, curfews, social distancing and mask-wearing – to the supposed Covid-19 pandemic, they have also witnessed an explosion of additional violence of many types and in many contexts – see ‘The Elite’s COVID-19 Coup against a Terrified Humanity: Resisting Powerfully’ – that have exacerbated the violence dramatically.
Despite the unusual level of impediments, many people have remained steadfast in their efforts to raise awareness of what is at stake, to mobilize an effective response and/or to take action themselves to end the violence in one context or another. This includes individuals and organizations that have committed themselves to this effort by signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’ which has signatories in 105 countries around the world and organizational endorsements in 39 countries.
These committed individuals and organizations include those few briefly discussed below, with some of them particularly focused on averting one of the paths to imminent human extinction.
Jennifer Wood is an architect and writer who developed near fatal toxic shock from the antibiotic Ciprofloxin and over-exposure to 2G wireless radiation when cell tower services were switched from analog to digital technology in 1996-1997. At this time, cell phone sales skyrocketed globally as did radiation and many public health problems according to epidemiologists. Although Jennifer had never used cell phones, she had spent long hours on a computer (surrounded by unnoticed cell towers) writing for the film director, Oliver Stone who had taken an interest in her novel. She has nearly died at a weight of 77 pounds from microwave radiation poisoning three times since that time. Each torturous period has coincided with exposure to upgrades in wireless technologies. During her third bout with death in 2010-2011, she moved to a radio quiet zone near a radio astronomy observatory that bans cell phone towers. Here Jennifer built by hand, without help, a tiny non-electric cabin without running water in the woods where she lived alone, with minimal suffering, for four years, gaining weight and becoming semi-functional.
Prominent environmental journalist Robert Hunziker, noted for his capacity to track and report truthfully on the ecological health of planet Earth, recently wrote a sobering article highlighting key elements of the recent Living Planet Report 2020 which records ‘an average 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016 [with a] 94% decline… for the tropical subregions of the Americas.’ With its ‘eye-popping description of the forces of humanity versus life in nature’, Robert noted ‘the report should really be entitled the Dying Planet Report 2020 because that’s what’s happening in the real world. Not much remains alive.’ For some of the detail of this disastrous state of affairs, read ‘The Dying Planet Report 2020’. For another of Robert’s reports on planetary ill-health, see ‘Boundless Dying Trees’.
But if you are not horrified already, you should read Robert’s article ‘10C Above Baseline’ to get a clearer sense of where Earth’s climate is headed with extinction for humans at 4C above baseline.
Starting in February 2020, Joana Aboagyewaa of the Splendors of Dawn Poetry Foundation in Ghana reports making valuable contributions to schools in the eastern region through their work as poets and educators under the Foundation’s ‘SUN Project’. This educational project was undertaken in Abirem, Achiase, St Roses Senior High (Akwatia) and Akim Swedru Secondary Schools where teachers taught poetry and art, ‘that is deeply human to secondary school students’, for positive change. ‘In April, The Splendors Performance Team held their National Poetry Month activities to celebrate the importance of poets and poetry in our society and culture.’ Splendors’ ‘Poetry Exchange Day’, with poems wrapped as gifts and mailed to classmates and friends, was held in basic schools in the Greater Accra Region. In addition, Splendors’ ‘Poets in Schools’ project ‘was a huge success because we enrolled a high number of poets in secondary schools, through the poetry awareness campaign, to encourage students to write and read.’ The Covid-19 pandemic ‘has necessitated our coming up with the Splendors of Dawn online “Poets Read out” series. Splendors of Dawn Poetry Foundation, Ghana believes that we can change the world and contribute our quota for its development through poetry.’
The indefatigable Steve Varatharajan, the Vice President but, more importantly, for many years the heart and driving force behind the International Association of Educators for World Peace (IAEWP), headquartered in Malaysia, has recently announced that, at year’s end, he will ‘be stepping down from all my positions in IAEWP as I am having [serious health] problems… [related to] the aggressive 5G telecommunications network building.’ For those who don’t know Steve, it is unlikely that many people have served any global network with the talent, commitment and productivity that Steve has demonstrated within the IAEWP.
Steve has also recently announced the appointment of Dr. Alfredo Sfeir Younis – the Chilean economist, spiritual leader and healer who had a 29-year career at the World Bank including as its first environmental economist – as Executive Vice President of the IAEWP. In that capacity, Alfredo has already proposed a visionary program to advance IAEWP aims. Separately from this, Dr. Priyaranjan Trivedi, the IAEWP Senior Vice President for Continental Asia and IAEWP Director General of Education, advises that their continental association has just launched a free online buffet of 31 courses. For details, see ‘Online Peace Education, Reconstruction, Accord, Non-Violence and Disarmament Initiative’. These courses are available online for India and the rest of the world.
Liz McAlister and Martha Hennessy are two of seven Catholic nuclear disarmament activists known as the Kings Bay Plowshares 7. The plowshares activists entered Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in St. Mary’s, Georgia, USA on 4 April 2018, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Carrying hammers and baby bottles of their own blood, the seven attempted to convert weapons of mass destruction to make real the prophet Isaiah’s command to ‘beat swords into plowshares’. Apart from impeding the ever-heightening threat of nuclear armageddon as the world’s international legal infrastructure against nuclear war rapidly unravels, they also hoped to call attention to the ways in which nuclear weapons kill every day by their mere existence and maintenance.
The nonviolent activists were subsequently ‘found guilty of trespass, conspiracy and destruction of federal property’ in October 2019. After spending time in prison, on 8 June 2020 Liz – the widow of Phil Berrigan – was sentenced to ‘time served, three years supervised release and for a portion of the restitution for the seven of just over $30,000’. Martha – a granddaugher of Dorothy Day – is due to be sentenced in November. You can read a detailed account of their action, an inspiring biography of each activist and follow the court outcome for Martha and the others at the website above. You can also see an evocative interview of Martha at ‘Martha Hennessy Interview’.
If you understand the critical importance of reducing human consumption as the core element of any strategy to preserve a habitable biosphere – encapsulated in Gandhi’s observation that ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every person’s need, but not every person’s greed’ – then you might consider participating in ‘The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth’ which he inspired as well.
5. I will only eat organically/biodynamically grown food
6. I will minimize the amount of fresh water I use, including by minimizing my ownership and use of electronic devices
7. I will not own or use a mobile (cell) phone
8. I will not buy rainforest timber
9. I will not buy or use single-use plastic, such as bags, bottles, containers, cups and straws
10. I will not use banks, superannuation (pension) funds or insurance companies that provide any service to corporations involved in fossil fuels, nuclear power and/or weapons
11. I will not accept employment from, or invest in, any organization that supports or participates in the exploitation of fellow human beings or profits from killing and/or destruction of the biosphere
12. I will not get news from the corporate media (mainstream newspapers, television, radio, Google, Facebook, Twitter…)
13. I will make the effort to learn a skill, such as food gardening or sewing, that makes me more self-reliant
14. I will gently encourage my family and friends to consider signing this pledge.
While most human inhabitants of Earth remain oblivious to the pervasive violence that is destroying us and our world, including the advanced nature of the four primary threats to human existence, there is nevertheless a worldwide network of people deeply aware of this situation who are acting to address these threats.
‘Doomed to fail’, you might believe. ‘Impossible’ even. And perhaps you are right. In fact, there is considerable evidence to support these beliefs.
But as Gandhi noted: ‘Hesitating to act because the whole vision might not be achieved, or because others do not yet share it, is an attitude that only hinders progress.’
Given that some of us, including the people above, are already working to end human violence, the main question remaining is ‘What about you?’
Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is here.
A boy stands in front of a tent donated by Saudi Arabia at one of the IDP camps in Sittwe, Myanmar [File: Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images]
At a time when the military junta in Myanmar persecutes Rohingya Muslims and more than a million Rohingya Muslims have taken shelter in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia has showed the highest degree of insensitivity and ruthlessness towards them while dealing with the Rohingya issue. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia claims to be the leader of the Islamic world but has not done anything to remove the sufferings of the hapless and persecuted Rohingya Muslim community. On the contrary, it has aggravated their problems. In September, Saudi Arabia asked the government of Bangladesh to issue passports to 54, 000 Rohingyas living in the Kingdom. Most of them are living in Saudi Arabia for more than four decades. Saudi Arabia has threatened Bangladesh with ban on the entry of Bangladeshi migrant workers in Saudi Arabia if it fails to comply witb its request.
Most of the Bangladeshi workers have returned to Bangladesh during COVID-19 lockdown and are waiting to return to the kingdom. The threat of Saudi Arabia has come at a critical juncture.
The Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh has said that it can issue passports only to those who held Bangladeshi passports previously but most of the Rohingyas did not belong to Bangladesh and have not even seen Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees living in Malaysia shout slogans during a protest against the treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, in Kuala Lumpur on 8 September 2017 (AFP)
Bangladesh started sending labours to Saudi Arabia in large numbers from 2015 after Malaysia banned its women from going to Saudi Arabia following reports of mistreatment of its women in Saudi Arabia. Bangladesh gets $ 3.5 billion of remittances from these migrant workers. Therefore, a ban on Bangladesh migrant workers in Saudi Arabia will have disastrous consequences on the economy of Bangladesh.
Saudi Arabia is well aware of this Achilles' Heel of Bangladesh and has decided to exploit its weakness to offload its Rohingya burden to Bangladesh.
Most of the Rohingyas have come to Saudi Arabia in the 60s and 70s after the military junta of Myanmar came to power in 1962 and started persecuting Rohingyas. In 1982, the military government stripped Rohingyas of citizenship. The Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh in large numbers after their persecution in the 70s. During that period, thousands of Rohingyas also fled to Saudi Arabia. They arrived to Saudia Arabia via India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and, of course, Bangladesh with forged documents since they did not have Burmese passports.
In the 60s and 70s, King Faisal had showed mercy on the Rohingya refugees and had granted them residency rights on human grounds. The Rohingyas were granted residency papers even without proper travel documents because King Faisal had taken into ccosideration their plight.
India deported a family of five Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar on January 3. (Representational photo | Reuters)
Many of the Rohingyas living in Saudi Arabia have been born, brought up and educated in Saudi Arabia and know about the Arabic culture and speak Arabic language fluently. They have every right to be granted Saudi citizenship. But on the contrary, the Saudi government wants this persecuted community to be deported to Bangladesh.
Since 2007, Saudi Arabia started pressurising Bangladesh to take them back as it claims they came to Saudi Arabia from Bangladesh.
Earlier the KSA requested Myanmar government to issue passports to the Rohingyas but it declined the request on the ground that it did not recognise Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar.
Therefore, Saudi Arabia started putting pressure on Bangladesh to take back Rohingyas.
Saudi government has put thousands of Rohingyas in detention centres in Jeddah where they are physically and mentally tortured. They have been kept n the detention centre for one year to five years without any charges.
Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar, heading to Bangladesh on 10 October, 2017 [Stefanie Glinski/Thomson Reuters Foundation]
In 2018, Saudi Arabia deported dozens of Rohingyas to Bangladesh. In 2019, 650 Rohingyas lodged in Shumaisi Detention Centre staged hunger strike against their incarceration and deportation. The authorities tortured them physically and mentally to break their hunger strike. They took away the bedsheets, blankets and pillows of the inmates while the AC was on 24×7 to compel them to break their hunger strike.
Some of them were put in "hot rooms" where the heat was unbearable and the authorities told them they will be taken out of the hot rooms if they broke their hunger strike. Because of these tortures, many Rohingya lost their mental equilibrium.
This treatment of the Rohingyas living in Saudi Arabia on the basis of residency papers granted by its own government is a violation not only of the international norms but of the Islamic principles on treatment of prisoners which it claims to uphold.
The UNCHR requested the authorities of Makkah to discuss the state of Rohingya refugees in Makkah but they did not respond.
The UN has earlier asked the Saudi government to grant Rohingyas refugee status but the KSA has been insisting that they are citizens of Bangladesh and so it sbould take them back.
But the reality is that Bangladesh is hosting the Rohingyas as refugees and opened its borders to give them shelter after they were persecuted in 1970. 400,000 Rohingyas took refuge in Bangladesh. In 2017, another 7, 40, 000 Rohingyas crossed over to Bangladesh to escape persecution. There are another 500, 000 Urdu speaking stranded Pakistanis living in refuee camps in Bangladesh whom the Bangladesh has given refuge.
This shows the humanitarian face of Bangladesh that hosts the biggest refugee camp in the world.
But instead of appreciating the troubles Bangladesh has taken to save the Rohingyas from persecution and starvation, Saudi Arabia has been pressuring Bangladesh to take another 54,000 Rohingyas which are not the liability of Bangladesh since they are not citizens of Bangladesh.
Saudi Arabia had raised the issue of Rohingyas with Bangladesh in February this year as well. Now that the migrant labourers are waiting to return and have been flocking to the airports for the visa, Saudi Arabia has upped the ante finding this an opportune time to make Bangladesh relent.
Bangladesh fears that even if it issues passports to the Rohingyas of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia may use tbe passports to repatriate them to Bangladesh on the ground that they are Bangladeshi citizens. Saudi Arabia says that the passports are needed in order to renew their residency. But the questions is why their residency cannot be renewed without a Bangladeshi passport when the King Faisal government had granted them residency papers without even proper travel documents.
The leader of Free Rohingya Coalition, Ro Nay San Lwin has urged the Saudi government to renew the residency of the Rohingyas in the Kingdom.
Instead of trying to offload the Rohingya refugees of its land to Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia should pressurise Myanmar to take Rohingyas back and reinstate their citizenship. It should raise the issue on the OIC platform and find a political and diplomatic solution to the decades long issue. It is not an issue between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia but is an international issue. Saudi Arabia has good relations with China and had even defended China on Uyghur issue. China has been defending Myanmar on Rohingya issue. Saudi Arabia should use its relations with China for a resolution of the Rohingya issue. As for the 54,000, Rohingyas kiving in Saudia Arabia, it should grant citizenship to them as they have been living in the country for more than fifty years and have assimilated in the Saudi society. After all they are Muslims.