Sunday, May 25, 2003

Yes, We Have Problems

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

He told me angrily: You generalize things about us and speak little on others. Fear God. Who told you that all our curricula and all our religious views are set against others, that we do not tolerate others’ views, we do not accept other schools of thought and movements, and we want to establish domination over all other views, thoughts, beliefs and trends?
I replied: I did not use these words, and it would not have been right if I had told you such things. What I talked about was the reality we are living in for several years. I have read our curricula, heard Friday sermons at mosques and listened to the cassettes, read the books, fatwas and other publications which prove that there is a movement that calls for the “unification” of curricula and sermons. Advocates of this movement also address the public with a narrow viewpoint, a single interpretation and a single school of thought.
This movement was not confined to the Kingdom but was taken to other countries by students and preachers. I still remember a case while I was in the United States. It was about to create division among the Muslim community and create confusion among the new Muslims there.
The issue started when a Saudi woman told her American Muslim counterparts that covering her face is a part of the religion and that their faith would not be complete without that. She also explained to them an edict issued by a prominent Saudi scholar in this respect. When the issue created a din and bustle, my wife contacted me from the women’s section of the Islamic center and informed me what had happened.
I approached the husband of the Saudi woman who raised the issue and told him to convince his wife that there are differences of opinion among Islamic scholars. These differences are sometimes good for the Ummah. I also reminded that his wife (who raised the issue) used to reveal face while driving her car.
His reply was not very encouraging: “We Saudis follow our own school of thought and our own scholars. It is not good that we promote the views of others, especially at this situation when our Ummah is facing so many problems and many scholars show leniency in expressing their views. Many have left the school of the puritan Muslims.” His reply compelled me to intervene to settle the crisis. I asked my wife to tell the American women about another edict on the issue and this helped cool down the situation and resolve the crisis which was about to divide the community into “foreign” and “Salafi Arab” Muslims.
But it did not change the stand of this man. He instead rallied Gulf Muslims against me and accused me that I was attacking Islamic scholars, that I lacked allegiance toward the nation, that I was playing with the religion to win the friendship of the Americans. He also raised doubts about my beliefs and he was even about to declare me an “infidel”.
I said: Don’t you think that the reasoning of this man is the prevalent one in our society? We have to frankly admit that we have a problem, because admission is the first step on the road to successful treatment.
He said: The problem is limited to a few individuals like your friend and some extremist thinkers and jihadists. But this is not so widespread as to be called a phenomenon. Punishing the perpetrators of crimes would be adequate to deter others and establish justice.
Speaking of thinkers, even if they are extremists, they are just reactionaries who came to oppose secularists and atheists.
I said: But it is a phenomenon and we should not ignore it. What we see today is a reality. The same way we fought drug traffickers and traders, we have to fight terrorism, starting from its advocates and supporters to those who issue edicts in favor of them. They show others the way to paradise while of course steering themselves, their children and friends away from that path. It is not justice to describe a deviant thought as reactionary to opposite thinking. The view that calls for committing crimes, declaring others as “infidels” and pouring hate on opponents is not true belief. The opening of the door of dialogue to all schools of thought is necessary — it is not possible to shut away with the advent of satellite TV.
He said: It’s clear that you are biased in your viewpoint, because you speak a lot against one side but little against the other. Why don’t you explain the situation which led these mujahedeen to adopt extremism and prefer violence in place of dialogue? As long as you search for the roots, why don’t you speak profusely on the political, security and social aspects of the issue?
I told him: It appears that you don’t read what we write. Because we have discussed these issues before they were raised by the extremists. We still talk about reforms, the conspiracies of enemies and their injustices. But focusing on such topics now with the reasoning of “Yes, but...” will only justify these crimes — the criminals from those who provide them with intellectual support to those who carry out the operations must be punished with no “buts”. If they asked for a dialogue we would have talked our differences with them, but since they started a war, war is what they shall get.
Arab News Features 25 May 2003

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