Tag Archives: Sharia law

Ayaan Hirsi-Ali – A question and answer session with one of the world’s most high profile critics of Islam

From the Australian Rationalist (Melbourne), v.104, Autumn 2017: 16 – 19. Journal of the Rationalist Society of Australia, www.rationalist.com.au

The Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi is one of the world’s most prominent critics of Islam and how Islamic societies treat women. In particular, she has targeted the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, which she was subjected to.

Hirsi has had an exceptionally high profile career in politics and in other areas of public life. In 2003, she was elected to the Netherlands’ lower house of parliament as a representative of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), but a controversy relating to the validity of her Dutch citizenship led to her subsequent resignation.

In 2004, she collaborated on a controversial short movie with Theo van Gogh called Submission, which depicted the oppression of women under Islam. This resulted in death threats against the two creators, and the eventual assassination of Van Gogh later that year.

In 2005 she was named by Time magazine in the 100 most influential people in the world. She has received several awards, including the Moral Courage Award. She subsequently emigrated to the United States where she founded the women’s rights organisation the AHA Foundation. She is married to Scottish historian and public commentator Niall Ferguson, and has one child.

Hirsi has published five books, including two autobiographies. Her latest book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, published in 2015, argues that a religious reformation is the only way to end Islamic terrorism, sectarian warfare, and the persistent repression of women and minorities.

Hirsi’s tone is often vigorous, even combative. In her latest book, for example, she declares that her intention is: “To make many people — not only Muslims but also Western apologists for Islam — uncomfortable.”

It is therefore unsurprising that she has attracted considerable criticism. This ranges from the extreme to the more reasoned. The extreme end was in evidence with the outrageous comments by Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, who was a principal organiser of the women’s march on Washington after the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. Sarsour said of Hirsi that she did not “deserve” to be called a woman.

More moderate criticisms tend to focus on Hirsi’s generalisations about Islam. For example, Max Rodenbeck commented in the New York Review of Books:

“Hirsi Ali is probably quite correct to assert that, while it is particularly noisy and violent, the jihadist ‘ Medina ’ end of the Islamic spectrum is narrow and thinly populated compared to the much larger ‘ Mecca ’ group. She is also right that the outspokenly critical Muslims are even less numerous. But surely the 1.5 billion ‘ Mecca ’ Muslims do not all fit into a single hapless category. Like the members of any great religion, one might imagine they instead have a diversity of views, as designations that Muslims use for one another, such as, for example, Salafist, Sufi, Ismaili, Zaidi, Wahhabist, Gulenist, Jaafari, and Ibadi, would suggest.” (New York Review of Books, 3 December 2015).

Rodenbeck also questioned some of Hirsi’s other claims. Sharia law, he said, is not a homogenous, rigid set of laws. Instead, he claimed, it “is an immense amalgam of texts and interpretations that has evolved along parallel paths within five major and numerous minor schools of law, all of them equally valid to their followers.”

Hirsi’s counter, however, is that while there are variations of sharia law, the underlying assumptions about the status of women and their rights is common across all variants.

The practice of martyrdom and suicide bombing, Rodenbeck says, is also comparatively recent, dating from the 1980s. “The four main schools of Sunni jurisprudence, including arch-conservative Saudi clerics, all concur that suicide is a serious sin,” he notes.

Likewise, there are those who question the claim that Islam has aggressively imposed itself on infidels. The history of the Ottomans, for example, suggests the opposite; that non-Muslims in the conquered countries were allowed to practice their religion freely. Hirsi responds by pointing to current behaviour in Islamic countries.

If there are points of disagreement about what Islam is, what is not in doubt is Hirsi’s courage. She went to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage in Kenya and was granted refugee status and, ultimately, given a Dutch passport.

She earned a Master’s degree that led her into outreach work with Muslim immigrant women, initially in affiliation with the Labour party. Witnessing the repression of women in immigrant communities, and deeply shocked by the 11 September 2001 attacks, she became a vocal defender of universal women’s rights, which she believes are ignored in Islamic societies.

In making her case against the treatment of women in Islamic societies,  something that has sparked the ire of the liberal left, especially in America , Hirsi has exposed the selectivity common in Western feminism. As she has pointed out, there have been large demonstrations against the decision by President Trump to deny entry to people from some countries that have a majority Muslim population.

Where, she asked in a television interview, was the outrage when, in 2015, a woman in Pakistan was condemned to death for allegedly blaspheming? Or the many other barbaric acts against women in Islamic countries?

Thus when Hirsi describes the leaders of these protestors as “fake feminists” who do not genuinely speak on behalf of Islamic women, she is making a case for the universality of human rights: the belief that what is considered unacceptable in one country should be considered unacceptable in all countries. That sits uncomfortably with many left-wing activists, who have had difficulty resolving the tension between arguing for universal rights on the one hand, and being tolerant of cultural differences on the other.

Australian Rationalist interviewed Ayaan Hirsi, who is being brought to Australia by Think Inc. (See dates below.)

     Australian Rationalist (AR): You have been subjected to an enormous amount of pressure, ranging from death threats to, more recently, the insults from Linda Sarsour. Psychologically how do you deal with that sort of thing?

Ayaan Hirsi: There is no psychology to it. I have been doing this since 9/11 of 2001. I listen to women like Linda Sarsour and think: “She doesn’t know me and 1 don’t know her.” I know that she is devoted to Islamic law and the implementation of Islamic law, and so I think of her as a fake feminist. And I think other people should do their due diligence when they march with people like her.

She is in fact a proponent of Islamic law and there is no principle that is more demeaning and degrading and dehumanising to women than Islamic law. I fight for what I believe in, which is universal human rights and the equality between men and women before the law. And religious tolerance and rights for gay people and the LGBT community. They should have every right that heterosexuals have. That is what I believe in and that is what I fight for.

I understand that she and I are ideological opponents. I do not stoop to the kind of language that Sarsour uses, but it is very clear to me that she hates me because of my ideas.

     AR: There seems to be a lot of hatred and the debate seems to be becoming more extreme. Where do things stand? How likely there is to be constructive ways of moving forward?

Hirsi: The trouble is that with the values that are in Islamic law a compromise is just not possible. You are not going to offer a little bit of equality between men and women. [Those on the other side] are not going to say that we will go the other way and kill apostates or strip them of their rights. There is no middle ground there. It is characteristic of Islamic extremism that they just don’t argue their position.

I have spent hours and hours thinking about how I should sell the ideas. What is wrong with my way of looking at the world? I can be persuaded up to a certain point, but there are some values I will never give up. I will never use violence. Whereas Islamic extremists disagree with that and use the harshest language possible, and they are very happy also to use violence.

A lot of people say Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Well, you know, there are so many Muslims who are terrified of coming out and saying that they are not Muslims any more. They are afraid of their own families.

AR: If there is no room for compromise, how can you reform Islam? Is there a way of doing it?

Hirsi: There is, because I am one of those people who believe that ideas — I believe Islam is a human idea — can be changed in the minds of people. I am now seeing, with relief, more and more Muslims coming out and saying this moral code that is Islamic law is false. They can’t align it with their conscience.

The question and discussion I have with some of these Muslim reformers is to ask the question: “What is it about Islam that should be shed? What should be seen in an historical context and belongs in a museum and not in real life?” I identify five principles [that need to be rethought]. Following blindly the edicts in the Koran and Mohammed’s conduct. Believing that life after death is more important than life before death. Believing that some individuals occupy the commanding heights, have the power to enforce the law. And the practices of sharia law and jihad.

These are the key components that Muslim reformers should gather around and try to persuade Muslims to change their minds around that. It is going to be a very long struggle.

AR: I have heard it argued that some people say some of this is not true to Mohammed. How many of those principles are genuinely stated by Mohammed rather than added later?

Hirsi: There are two discussions that come up every time that Islamic extremism is discussed. One is a set of Muslims saying: “Look, Mohamed never said these things and he never did it and it is not in the Koran, and the scripture and history of Islam is one of peace.”

That is easily debunked; you just look at the Koran and you look at Mohammed, and I am not talking about what non-Muslims say about Mohammed, I am talking about the hagiographic biography of Mohammed written by people who believe in him.

When we look at occasions when Islamic law is implemented, what do you see? Do they look very peaceful to you? These are places that have internal repression. A good example is Iran . Another good example is Saudi Arabia . So that claim is easily debunked.

The other issue that arises here — if we fantasise about an ideal world where people, Muslims, will stop denying what Islam actually says — is it possible for them to be Muslim and at the same time criticise the Prophet Mohammed?

Ultimately, Muslims will have to find their own solutions to that. It is possible, in my view, for Muslims to shed all the violence and intolerant principles and remain Muslims. Because they will then adhere to the example of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca when he prayed, and he fasted, and he was religious in the way we think of religion today. It is only after he goes to Medina that he starts to develop not just a religious doctrine but a political and military doctrine.

AR: Another argument is that many of the problems in the Middle East are more cultural rather than religious. In some of the societies that do Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Christians do it as well as the Muslims. So it is attributed more to a cultural history rather than a religion. What is your view of that kind of position?

Hirsi: The practice of cutting and sewing the genitals of girls and women predates Islam. It was there before Islam, and it happens in places where people are not Muslim at all. What makes it fit into Islam is that there is this hadith — hadith is a narrative. People saying that the Prophet Mohammed had recommended it. The view of modesty, virginity, the position of the woman and her honour in Islam is what makes it prevalent in Muslim countries.

You could argue, technically, that even if Mohammed did recommend it, a recommendation is different from an obligation: you don’t have to do it. But even if that is the case, it is really about the position of women in Islam. It is part and parcel of measures such as having women covered from head to toe. Or having women be wards for the rest of their lives. Forcing children into marriage. They are never seen as adults.

This is an attitude towards women, and if you see it in that context you will understand why the Muslim Brotherhood introduced the practice into Indonesia where before that it was never practised.

There are several places in the world where Islam has transported the practice of female genital mutilation in the name it Islam. So who can deny that it is Islamic? We don’t want to have empty discussions. We want to really talk about the core problem, and the core of the problem is the attitude to women. Simply refusing to recognise women as fellow human beings.

     AR: Is there actually a theological position in Islam that men and women aren’t equal.

Hirsi: It is implicit and explicit. The Koran, the hadith and the practice of Islam makes women subordinate to men. Women are not seen as autonomous owners of their own bodies. You could argue that that is Arab culture and many other non-Muslim societies. But you cannot argue that men and women are regarded as equal in Islam.

AR: Is that said overtly in a theological way in Islam?

Hirsi: Yes, it is. There are many ways it is said theologically. For instance, the wife has to obey without question. If she disobeys, or if he fears her disobedience, he warns her and he can leave her alone in bed or beat her if he needs to. This is at the core of Islam’s attitude to women. Even in cases where Islam is not implemented in the sense of hands and feet cut off, or people are beheaded, it is still the case in those places that the family law, which is the law of the land, strips women of their rights.

I am talking here about more progressive countries in North Africa . Even where they have the laws on the books that are very European, still the way that people live is to subordinate women to men. All of this is argued in the name of Islam — all of it.

     AR: What is your view of Donald Trump at the moment? Are you a supporter of what he is doing, are you indifferent, or are you against what he is doing. Particularly the refugee ban, but also his general positions?

Hirsi: He gave a speech in August last year, which I thought was very heartening. When he said we have to call Islamic extremes [sic: extremism?] by its name. He put it in the same realm as the totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century: Nazism, fascism and communism. He said the threat of the day is Islamic extremism. He said if he was elected president that was how he was going to fight it. He was going to see it as an ideology.

He has only been in office in 13 or 14 days; he has been very busy. but I think his basic premise is right. Now we just need to develop a very effective tool box to fight it as an ideology.

The trouble with Obama’s presidency and even George W. Bush’s presidency was that they focused only on the violence and therefore limited the tool box of measures that they could apply. They confined themselves only to surveillance and military tactics.

But you can’t really bomb bad ideas out of people’s heads. Islamic law is a bad idea and if we develop a counter-narrative, a counter-set of ideas, then sell that, then I think we will be able to persuade lots of Muslims to abandon Islamic law.

     AR: What arc the elements of that narrative. What does it look like?

Hirsi: One of the tools that Islamic extremists use to recruit people and inspire them is to say that there are all these rewards promised in the after-life. We could develop a counter-narrative of life where they say we love death more than life; we could say we love life more than death. Here is a narrative of life.

But that means you are going to talk about life after death, and you will be accused of blasphemy and attacking Islam and all the rest of it. You could also point to open liberal societies, and even though they are not perfect societies, they are prosperous. People grow old and die in their beds most of the time. That the idea of liberty and liberalism is superior to the idea of Islamic law.

You can point it out to those they target: that is, the young and impressionable men, and say: “Why are you fleeing your country of origin. Why are you trying to get to the United States of America ? Because America implements the idea of liberty, and what you are promised as a young man or a young woman when it comes to sharia law is a cruel society, cruel economics. It is inhumane.”

So you have a counter-narrative in exactly the same way as we had in the Cold War. We used all sorts of cultural norms and cultural persuasive tools to get to the people behind the Iron Curtain and persuade them that Marxism was a nihilist, violent and empty ideology. It looked good on paper, but it was not when put into practice.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be appearing at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre on 6 April, the Festival Hall in Melbourne on 7 April, Darling Harbour Theatre in Sydney on 8 April, and in the Llewellyn Hall in Canberra on 10 April. All starting times are 7 p.m. https://www.thinkinc.org.au/events/hirsi-ali/

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Explainer: what is halal, and how does certification work?

The Conversation

By James Wong, Monash University and Julian Millie, Monash University

Halal food certification in Australia has become a contentious issue. Recently, a Western Australian cafe received hateful and anti-Islamic messages after its owners tried to explain halal on Facebook. A South Australian company stopped certifying its yoghurt in November 2014 after it was targeted by a social media campaign.

And on Tuesday, independent senator Jacqui Lambie threatened to introduce a private senator’s bill to close what she claims are “legal loopholes” that:

… could allow financing of terrorists and Australia’s enemies through halal money.

Lambie is not the first to raise the issue in federal parliament. WA Liberal MP Luke Simpkins claimed that halal is converting unwitting consumers to Islam. LNP MP George Christensen linked halal certification to religious extremism.

Activist groups are telling consumers to boycott halal products. They also claim that certification funds extremist groups and is part of a campaign to introduce sharia law.

Halal food certifiers and others in the Australian Muslim community have rejected these claims, and those who make them are yet to produce any evidence. But a lack of transparency from certifiers, along with a fragmented marketplace and confusion over what the halal certification process involves, creates a climate of uncertainty for anti-halal campaigners and Muslim consumers alike.

What is halal food?

Muslims choose to eat halal food because it meets requirements that they believe make it suitable for consumption. Halal originates from rules set out in the Qur’an and the Hadith (the Prophet Muhammad’s example), which have been followed throughout generations of Islamic practice.

For Muslim consumers, knowing how the food was produced is an important consideration. Source: Raqib Chowdhury, CC BY

As a concept, halal does not only pertain to food. Halal means “permissible” and can refer to any aspect of life covered by the teachings of Islam.

Halal is a part of sharia as a system of morals to guide Muslims’ actions and behaviour, but this should not be confused with halal as part of a codified system of sharia law. Halal prescriptions might be considered by observant Muslims to be religious obligations, but Australia is a secular country and halal forms no part of any Australian law.

As with many aspects of Islamic practice, the definition of halal food is a contested issue. For example, there is disagreement within the Muslim community about whether stunning animals before slaughter produces halal meat. Both sides draw on Islamic teachings and traditions to support their positions. Disputes such as this highlight why halal certification is important for Muslim consumers.

How does halal certification work?

There are three different types of halal certification in Australia.

Individual products can be certified, meaning the production process and ingredients in that particular product are halal. So a consumer could buy halal yoghurt, for example, from a store that also sold non-halal yoghurt.

Production facilities can be certified, so that any products produced according to the certification standards can claim to be halal. For example, in an abattoir that is certified to produce halal meat, the meat will be halal no matter what cuts or final shape the meat takes. However, it may not even get labelled as halal when it reaches the market.

Retail premises can also be certified so that all food prepared and sold from that business is halal.

The halal certification process varies depending on who is performing the service. This is where uncertainty creeps in. Muslim consumers are largely unable to find out exactly what process has been followed in the certification process and what standards have been set by the certification provider.

Why is halal certification needed?

Halal certification is needed in Australia for two key reasons.

Firstly, certification helps local Muslims decide which products to buy. Modern food processing and globalised markets make it hard for Muslims in Australia to know how their food was produced and where it has come from. To get around this uncertainty, consumers who want to buy halal food need a system that checks whether products meet the requirements of being halal.

In this sense, halal certification is similar to any type of food certification and audit system. Whether it be halal, kosher, gluten-free or organic, food certification services help consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat.

Companies around the world are embracing halal to compete in the large Muslim market. Source: Mark Ghosh/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

The second reason has to do with trade. With the global halal food trade estimated at A$1.75 trillion annually, Muslim markets provide a lucrative opportunity for Australian companies. If companies want to export their products to those markets, they need to have halal certification.

Who certifies halal food?

Certified halal products in Australia can come from two sources: domestic products that are produced locally and certified by local businesses, or imported products that have been certified overseas.

Numerous halal certifiers operate in Australia. The Department of Agriculture maintains a list of Islamic organisations that have an “Approved Arrangement” to certify halal meat for export. There are 21 such organisations operating in Australia as of November 2014.

However, Australian government regulation applies only to providers that certify meat for export. While much of this meat may end up in the domestic market, certification providers that service only the Australian market do not come under any government regulation.

While some halal certification providers are associated with, or part of, larger Australian Islamic organisations, such as the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, others are stand-alone businesses that provide local certification services.

With so much uncertainty about what constitutes halal, how products are certified and who is doing the certification, consumers who wish to buy halal food can find that a difficult task.

For non-Muslim Australian consumers, however, halal food is little different to any other food available. It only matters whether or not food is halal if a person has the religious conviction and desire to eat only halal food. Although improvements could be made, halal certification is one way Muslims are able to do this.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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The kind of toughness we need now

The Conversation

By Simon Reich, Rutgers University

I grew up in London during the IRA bombing campaign of the 1970s. I lived in Pittsburgh during the 9/11 attacks when United Flight 93 was forced down not far from the city. I’m currently in Paris where I live part of the year.

Each of these cities is filled with decent, thoughtful, moderate people: people who care about their families, their communities and their country. They may argue vehemently about politics, religion and sport. But what binds them, overwhelmingly, is their commitment to a modern set of values, liberal-democratic values that its proponents collectively define as “modernity and progress”.

These values are not unique to what their adversaries call “the West”. These values were just as evident among those Arabs and Muslims who protested in the squares of Cairo and Tunis. Those who began the war against Assad in Syria. Those who demanded greater rights in the streets of Hong Kong. Those who clamor for recognition on the streets of Moscow.

Unfortunately, in these cases, the protesters were outnumbered and crushed by adversaries who control the military and the police. They were defeated by politicians who can whip up a frenzy among people who fear the future rather than embrace it.

We will always face threats

In each generation, we collectively face a threat from people who value control and conformity rather than freedom of expression. The source and form of these threats take many forms and those that carry them out vary in their goals.

The Cold War sought to impose a statist political system. Jihadists want to impose a medieval one masquerading as a religious one. But they share common features. They seek to divide and conquer, to rule and impose their values. They seek to quell freedom of thought and action.

Sometimes the threat is widespread and realistic. Soviet missiles really did pose an existential threat. Sometimes it is more symbolic. The Paris shooting, like the IRA in London and 9/11 fits in the latter category. The target was well-defined, and carried out barbarically and with efficiency. It was the quintessence of terrorism.

Sadly, we will always face such threats. And they will always hit soft targets.

The really important question is how we respond. The humanity demonstrated by those who held vigils on the streets of many capitals around the world after the Paris killings was deeply touching and symbolically very important. But it is just the start.

What to do?

Shock and sadness will inevitably give way to indignation, anger and a desire for revenge. The scale of the attack on Charlie Hebdo was much smaller than 9/11. But it would be foolish to underestimate the effect of these killings on the French national psyche, a country that was spared the post 9/11 bombings in London and Madrid.

So how will we respond to each other when the shock has subsided? Today, as I write this story, France is preparing for a moment of silence and the streets of Paris are eerily silent. But will France be able to distinguish the real enemy from those we think look like the enemy in the months ahead? After 9/11, Muslims and people who looked like Muslims (which included Sikhs in turbans to the more ignorant) suffered discrimination at the hands of unscrupulous politicians and violence at the hands of thugs looking for someone to blame. Many Europeans, living in the throes of mass unemployment, are prone to the same temptation – to blame someone, anyone, for their individual and collective woes.

As I sat on the train last night after the attack, there were two women sitting near me. One was an older woman who wore a traditional head-dress. She looked down, unwilling to even acknowledge a man sitting opposite her. The other was a young woman with make-up, painted nails, a short skirt and high-heeled boots. They were obviously both Muslims. These were clearly nobodies’ enemy. Neither is my sister-in-law’s partner, a Jew whose family is from North Africa – and who can be mistaken for an Arab Muslim.

France’s National Front party, led by Marine Le Pen, has already embarked on a cynical course, denouncing Islam as the enemy. The FN is not alone. Michel Houellebecq, one of France’s most renowned authors, coincidentally published a novel yesterday entitled Submission (in English). Its central plot is that France has become an Islamic state in which civil society capitulates to Sharia law. Prior to the attack, it was the talk of France.

It is tempting to buy into this narrative, one of a clash of civilizations. Europeans from Greece to the UK are ready to do so. But we shouldn’t. Our common cause is with those who embrace common humanitarian values, even though we disagree about so much. Our enemies are those who reject these values. Both our allies and adversaries come in every color and proclaim every religion. It is time to get tough with those who oppose our common values. We’ve been too willing to let others divide us on the basis of color, wealth, religion or politics.

Getting tough doesn’t have to entail fighting more wars, mass imprisonment or the use of torture. The Spanish didn’t discriminate against a whole minority group when it fought ETA – and ultimately ETA faded away.

Real toughness means demonstrating the resolve showed by the English when they faced the IRA bombing campaign in the 1970s and 1980s. It entails the kind of dignity showed by those who held vigil in Paris’ Place de la Republique the night of the attack. It entails showing fortitude by sticking firmly with the values that have served us all well over the course of the last several centuries.

Otherwise, whether we defeat the Jihadists or not, they will have won.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged with permission). Read the original article.

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