Charlie Gard: What if they’re just wrong?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 15 July, 2017 - 17:35

A brain scan showing large areas affected by necrosis after a stroke.The case of Charlie Gard, the baby boy with a mitochondrial disease and allegedly irreparable brain damage whose life support doctors have been trying to turn off as they believe there is no hope of his recovering, has been in the news for the past several weeks as it has gone to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled against him, and now back to the British High Court where lawyers are representing his family pro bono. I’ve not followed that case particularly closely but I have been following the case of Emily Bauer, a young woman from Texas who suffered brain damage in 2012 after taking ‘Kush’ (also known as ‘spice’ and ‘K2’), a kind of synthetic marijuana which is available from some corner shops and filling stations and sold as “legal highs” or “pot pourri”. After she suffered a series of strokes, scans showed large areas of her brain affected by “liquefactive necrosis”, i.e. which were dead, and it was believed that if her life support were switched off, she would die.

They did switch them off and Emily Bauer is still alive 3 1/2 years later; she has some visual, cognitive and physical impairment — she still relies on a wheelchair and needs help doing personal care — but she has made progress far in excess of what doctors thought she was capable of in December 2012. Emily and her family have, since Emily’s injury, been campaigning for awareness of and legislation against the sale of synthetic marijuana and featured stories about police raids, prosecutions and other deaths connected to the drug (they are on Facebook here). Her doctors now say that her recovery is a miracle and that she is achieving things that “should not be possible”. The damage cannot be repaired, but “new pathways can be created to go around the dead areas”.

The situation may well not be comparable to Charlie Gard’s, but in that case as in this, doctors thought she was beyond saving and advised her parents to allow them to switch off her life support, which they did; there was no sense on either side that Emily had a life, and everyone was surprised when she survived having the life support switched off. Charlie Gard’s parents do not accept this and are willing to take up whatever treatment anyone suggests might offer him a life beyond the walls of a London hospital. There are some American ‘doctors’ with glossy publicity and apparently state-of-the-art facilities offering such things as cures for cancer which have no benefit, but the doctor who is expected to examine baby Charlie next week is a neurologist from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, not a quack in the Burzynski mould, and believes there is between an 11% and 56% chance of “clinically meaningful improvement”.

We need to beware of accepting the doctors’ authority argument in such cases. Doctors have been known to be wrong, but sometimes egregiously so, with terrible (and sometimes lethal) consequences for a patient who cannot defend him- or herself. Some are wedded to pet theories (especially around physical symptoms being psychological in origin, and mitochondrial disease is often the disputed diagnosis in such cases, as in the case of Justina Pelletier, who was held in a psychiatric ward at Boston Children’s Hospital for more than a year after doctors there disputed a diagnosis from her local hospital in Connecticut) and others will make decisions on self-centred grounds. Liberal ‘rationalists’ in both this country and the US have a history of siding with doctors in such situations, while the “pro-life” Right support those trying to keep the patient alive, as we first saw in the case of Terri Schiavo. So I’m not joining those saying “just let the poor kid die”; if reputable doctors believe they can offer him an improvement in his condition, we should let them.

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A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi review – a journey into radicalisation

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 July, 2017 - 07:29

Cultural integration and the repercussions of terrorism are the key elements in this expertly crafted coming-of-age story

A Good Country is the third novel in a trilogy following three generations of a Kurdish family, its action moving from Iran to the US. It is the story of Rez, full name Alireza, who is 14 years old at the start of the novel and 18 at the end; the title comes from his father’s description of the United States. Our first sight of the father, whose experience of the Islamic revolution was related in The Walking, is of a demanding, adamant man, “a tyrant without a cause”, as Rez thinks him when he suffers violent humiliation at his hands for a B grade in a school history test.

The pieces are in place for a story of adolescence in wealthy Laguna Beach, California, and the rebellion of a second-generation migrant youth against hard-working and ambitious parents. The father’s name is Saladin Courdee, an Americanisation of Khourdi, while his first name invokes the most famous Kurd in history. Khadivi places a series of clues in the narrative to indicate the struggle of migrant families to become American, and the contrasting anxieties between the generations with their potential for violent rupture.

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A year on, families of 'martyrs' who resisted Turkey coup count cost

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 July, 2017 - 06:00

More than 250 people were killed and 2,000 injured as soliders tried to oust Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last July

The last time Gülzerin Kılıç saw her son was exactly a year ago – when he walked out of the house on the night of 15 July as tanks rolled on to the streets of Istanbul during the attempted military coup.

Mehmet, 22, died from a sniper’s bullet at the Bosphorus bridge as he marched to challenge the soldiers who had blockaded the thoroughfare, answering the call – along with thousands of his fellow citizens who took to the streets – to challenge the plotters and protect the democratically elected government.

Related: One year after the failed coup in Turkey, the crackdown continues

If Erdoğan was not our leader, we would not be free to practise our religion

Related: Talk of resurgent Turkish democracy dominates failed coup anniversary | Simon Tisdall

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Two Israeli police and three gunmen killed in shootout at holy site

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 July, 2017 - 11:47

Prayers cancelled at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif complex in Jerusalem as attack threatens to raise Israeli-Palestinian tensions

Two Israeli police officers have been shot dead and three gunmen killed during an early-morning shootout in one of Jerusalem’s most holy and sensitive sites.

The attack – involving three Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin – took place just after 7am in the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif complex in Jerusalem. It began near the Lions’ Gate entrance to the compound, which is revered as a holy site by both Muslims and Jews.

Related: Israel-Palestine: the real reason there’s still no peace

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Emergency services react to shootout in Jerusalem's Old City – video

The Guardian World news: Islam - 14 July, 2017 - 10:48

Three gunmen were shot dead in Jerusalem on Friday, after an incident at the entrance to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif complex. Emergency services say two Israelis who were wounded are receiving life-saving treatment. Muslim Friday prayers have been cancelled for the first time in 17 years

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Why Muslims aren’t pacifists

Indigo Jo Blogs - 13 July, 2017 - 23:15

A demonstration featuring a large number of South Asian men, many of them with reddish dots on their faces and holding large metal knives or long swords.Martin Luther King junior famously wrote a Letter from a Birmingham Jail, a response to local White clergymen who had urged him to be less strident and roll back on the direct action. One paragraph sticks out:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

This paragraph sprang to my mind when I read an article by a writer I had not previously heard of but who appears to be an Indian Hindu liberal, one Barkha Dutt of New Delhi, in the Washington Post. The article bemoans recent terrorist attacks in Kashmir including the lynching of a Muslim policeman, Ayub Pandith, outside a mosque in Srinagar and a massacre of Hindu pilgrims (a man and seven women) in the region, as well as the fact that “in the land of Mahatma Gandhi”, there is “not one nonviolent icon in the Kashmir Valley”. She proclaims at the start that:

There comes a moment when a “cause” gets buried under the debris of its own failings. Or when a single incident is enough for a journey to lose its moral compass. This moment has come for Kashmir.

This is not the first time I have addressed outside demands for “Muslim pacifists” on this blog; back in 2005, the Daily Telegraph columnist Charles Moore demanded an answer as to where the “Muslim Gandhi” was, advocating pacifism for the Muslims which, as I noted then, “he displays no intention of advocating for his own race”. The American liberal writer and film-maker Michael Moore has done the same for the Palestinians, advocating “non-violent resistance” as the answer to everything for them. It’s no coincidence that the same Michael Moore is an avowed Zionist who told the Republican rabbi Shmuley Boteach in 2004 that he regards the Jews as the “most oppressed people on earth” and “believe[s] strongly in Israel’s security and Israel’s right to defend itself”. Pacifism and non-violent resistance can sometimes grow spontaneously, as indeed it did in the western world in the years after the First World War. But it is also commonly the form of ‘resistance’ people like to preach to those whom they would like to see crushed. Zionists do not advocate Palestinian resistance, even if it was the cleanest war ever. They want nothing less than total Palestinian submission to permanent Israeli domination. If Gandhi were not so useful to “concern trolls” who are usually on the oppressor’s side, he would have been denounced long ago as the racist, sexually abusive dinosaur he was.

Gandhi’s movement made gains because the British were not willing to take the risks inherent in large-scale repression of the Indian public; by the time of Indian independence, the British public had just fought a war against Nazi Germany and the atrocities of that war were being exposed, and the British public (who in the age of film, even if not TV or the Internet, could not have been shielded from the goings-on as they could have been in Victorian times) would not have accepted being made an accessory to large-scale massacre. The British ruling class was also coming to regard the Empire as costly, and wanted to withdraw from it. Besides, the population of India was much bigger than that of Britain, which is not the case for the Palestinians against Israel, the Kashmiris against India or the African-Americans against their White oppressors. Martin Luther King is himself quoted as saying that if your enemy has a conscience, follow Gandhi, but if he does not, then follow Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who was hanged for plotting to assassinate Hitler.

The British songwriter Julie Matthews, in her song about the British empire Jewel in the Crown, attributes to it the attitude “we need no conscience; God is on our side”. The rulers of India also have no need for a conscience; they believe the “Gods” they worship are on their side and they, the VHP, BJP and associated movements, are on theirs. The ‘Gods’ are of course a mixture of dead men and mythical characters that never existed, but Modi had a friend in David Cameron, has one in Donald Trump and the Indian public are also on his party’s side, having elected Modi prime minister of India in 2014 after the infamous Gujarat pogrom of 2002 (after which his party won two further elections in Gujarat, in 2007 and 2012) happened on his watch and in which he is accused of complicity; he certainly publicly blamed the victims instead of condemning the violence. It does not do the Indian rulers’ electoral chances any harm to deploy any force necessary to suppress any stirrings of Kashmiri resistance, whether violent or otherwise; in recent years they have taken to firing pellet guns into the faces of protesters, resulting in demonstrators being blinded. His party’s current governor of Uttar Pradesh state has referred to Muslims as “a crop of two-legged animals” and at one rally shouted “we are all preparing for religious war!”. And this is the country where Muslims have been murdered, sometimes by mobs, on mere suspicion of slaughtering cows or possessing beef. Yet our liberal Hindu writer, who in a previous article gloated that Kashmir was on its own in the post-9/11 world where “there is no patience for armed uprisings associated with Islamist terror”, finds time to mention two acts of terrorism, both by Kashmiri separatists seeking to rid Kashmir of the rule of this latter-day cross between the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

I do not indulge the “politics of suspicion” on this blog; I do not condemn on demand. I have a two-pronged policy on condemning terrorism here. When it comes to situations where Muslims had been living peaceably but a group of renegades carried out an act of terrorism calculated to disturb it, such as the 9/11 attacks, the 2005 London bombings or the recent bomb attack in Manchester, I condemn those readily. When genuine resistance movements overstep the mark, I will not condemn such acts in front of those who support those whose oppression caused the conflict in the first place; for example, I will not condemn Hamas suicide bombings to Zionists, especially who defend any Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians in the name of security, much less those who openly use derogatory language against Palestinians in general. However right the cause, almost no modern war has ever been won cleanly; powerful nations get away with it, while leaders of small ones face sanctimonious TV exposés from countries that had been desperate for them to win, and the threat of war crimes tribunals. Marge Piercy, the Jewish American novelist best known for her feminist science fiction novel Woman on the Edge of Time, told a British left-wing magazine that she would not discuss Israel with them as she did not trust ‘lefties’ on the matter, preferring to keep her activism on Israel to the Jewish community. We should have the same policy when it comes to Muslims who resist oppression, be it in Palestine or Kashmir.

It’s true that not many Muslims are pacifists. Not many westerners are either. Pacifism flowered briefly in the inter-war years as the futility of the earlier war and the lies used to justify and prolong it were exposed; it was discredited by the rise of Hitler, when it became clear that he and his totalitarian and repugnantly racist empire could only be checked, let alone eliminated, by military force. Even the Indian emperor Ashoka, who is famous for embracing non-violence in later life, first waged a war to gain control of most of India and conquer the kingdom of Kalinga (now the state of Odisha, formerly Orissa). Pacifism gains popularity at times when there is a sense of security and threats are at bay, but it’s hard to get a sense of that when your country is occupied by men who regard you as animals and will blind you just for standing with your fellow countrymen in the street. The world is not a peaceful place, it never has been, and Muslims are not masochists or fools.

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Serbian Appeal Court Halts Srebrenica War Crimes Trial

Loon Watch - 13 July, 2017 - 19:08

Many are still uneducated and unaware of the fact that 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were systematically massacred by the Serb national army, and thousands of women and girls raped.

Thousands gathered across the world to remember the worst massacre in Europe since the end of World War II, letting the world know that this will never be forgotten or swept under the rug. In Srebrenica, over 20,000 gathered, while Serbian officials chose to miss the commemoration.

On the heels of the commemoration of the genocide at Srebrenica, an appeals court in Serbia halted the first ever war crimes trial.

via. Daily Sabah

Serbian appeals court has stopped a landmark trial of eight former Bosnian Serb police officers charged with taking part in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre Thursday.

The court in Belgrade said it has accepted defense complains that the indictment against the eight is invalid because it was filed when Serbia did not appoint the chief war crimes prosecutor.

The ruling meant that the whole proceeding will have to start over from scratch.

The eight former members of a Bosnian Serb special police unit went on trial in February this year, accused of organising and participating in the shooting of more than 1,300 Bosniak civilians in an agricultural warehouse in the village of Kravica near Srebrenica in July 1995.

It appears to have been halted over a technicality. Hopefully, the trial proceeds sincerely and factually, so that Serbia can live up to the genocidal crimes committed in the name of Serbian nationalism and Orthodox religion.

Saudi Arabia boosting extremism in Europe, says former ambassador

The Guardian World news: Islam - 13 July, 2017 - 11:12

Sir William Patey says Riyadh may not be aware of how its support for a ‘certain brand of Islam’ is leading to radicalisation

Saudi Arabia has been funding mosques throughout Europe that have become hotbeds of extremism, the former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir William Patey has said.

His remarks come a day after the government published a brief summary of a Home Office-commissioned report into the funding of extremism in the UK. The full report is not being published for security reasons.

Related: Rudd's refusal to publish full report into extremist funding 'unacceptable'

Related: Anti-Qatar alliance renews attack on al-Jazeera Arabic

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I'd be tempted to run over Yassmin Abdel-Magied, commentator says

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 July, 2017 - 08:21

Radio 2GB defends Prue MacSween’s comments as ‘light-hearted’ and ‘non-literal’ after she says Abdel-Magied was right not to feel safe in Australia

A conservative commentator on Sydney’s 2GB radio station has joked about wanting to “run over” Yassmin Abdel-Mageid, after the Sudanese-Australian engineer detailed death threats and rape threats she had received while in Australia.

Former journalist Prue MacSween made the comments on 2GB’s Chris Smith show on Wednesday, on a segment called “Smithy’s Deplorables”– a reference to the nickname adopted by supporters of Donald Trump.

Related: What are they so afraid of? I’m just a young brown Muslim woman speaking my mind | Yassmin Abdel-Magied

To all you festering, humourless Twitter ferals. Go tell someone who cares. Last time I looked this was a country of free speech. Get a life

You are a disgrace to this great nation Prue. Terrorists swerve their cars to intentionally hurt people. SHAME!!

You expressed a wish to murder someone on the radio and nothing's going to happen. Your free speech isn't threatened.

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How To Neutralize the Violent Jihadist Pull

Muslim Matters - 12 July, 2017 - 05:01

By: Yaya J. Fanusie. Yaya is a former CIA counterterrorism analyst. He is the director of analysis at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance. He tweets at @signcurve and produces a personal storytelling podcast about his journey to Islam and working in national security called Rhythm of Wisdom.

The recent terrorist attacks in London show that jihadist conflicts around the globe are likely to continue ricocheting in the West. To keep up with this threat, the U.S. is leveraging all elements of its power. In the past few months, the U.S. Treasury Department has designated more than a dozen people for their involvement with al-Qa’ida (AQ) or the Islamic State (IS). They’re a diverse bunch. Two of the individuals are from the UK. Another pair are Canadian. The list also includes a Trinidadian, Malaysian, Indonesian, a Swede, and a guy from New Zealand. Clearly, the world’s most deadliest terrorist groups are equal opportunity recruiters. And these designations belie the idea that the U.S. can counter jihadist terrorism through a national security policy focus on the Middle East.

Obviously, these individuals do not represent the dominant attitudes of Muslims in these countries. But as a convert to Islam who spent several years working as a counterterrorism analyst for the CIA, I am particularly concerned about extremist narratives calling on Muslims in the West to support terrorist groups. The phenomenon of Muslims leaving places where Islam exists in relatively pluralistic environments to join al-Qa’ida and IS offers insights into the paths of jihadist radicalization and, hopefully, some ways to undercut it.

While many may posit that what is needed is a shift in the Islamic theology that terrorists embrace, both my observations as an analyst and my personal experience within Islam point me to a more targeted conclusion. Countering extremists requires shifting how they think more than what they believe. And while religion is central to jihadist narratives, culture is a way more malleable variable that determines how one approaches religion.

It’s not about the organization, but the cause. One of the recent Treasury designees, British citizen El Shafee Elsheikh, left the UK in 2012 to join al-Qa’ida’s branch in Syria. But he later left that group to join IS where he became part of a quartet of Brits known for torturing and beheading hostages. Trinidadian IS sniper Shawn Dominic Crawford said in an interview with the group’s English-language magazine that before moving to Syria, he was part of a vigilante group in Trinidad that took revenge on non-Muslims accused of harming local Muslims. For 20 years, UK extremist Anjem Choudary encouraged followers to support jihadist movements. When IS took over territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, he quickly pledged allegiance to the group from London.

While violent radicalization is a complicated process, the ideological attraction at play here is relatively simple. These folks desire to establish an Old World caliphate and are galvanized by the allure of fighting against forces they perceive as antagonists of Islam. If the operational structures of IS and al-Qa’ida were to disappear overnight, it would make little difference. As long as the jihadist mindset persists, new organizations would likely arise and draw new adherents.

Countering the extremist narrative requires proving that the jihadist struggle is not analogous to Prophet Muhammad’s mission. The jihadist narrative can’t be neutralized without attacking its base assumptions head-on. The argument that Muslims should leave their lands to join IS or AQ is enabled only by an incorrect reasoning that the historical occasions of Muhammad emigrating Mecca and fighting his pagan persecutors are precedents with a literal modern analog.

There are lots of scholarly arguments to counter this thinking, but the best approach is to invoke simple concepts that can resonate broadly amongst Muslims. One is that the Prophet’s mission was a universal and dynamic one that provides a mode to follow, but not necessarily a script. In the 21st chapter of the Qur’an (called The Prophets), Muhammad is described as someone who was sent as a mercy to all the worlds. The Arabic term for “all the worlds” (alameen) more appropriately should be understood as all the systems of knowledge. Its root meaning denotes knowledge and science, as one prominent American Muslim commentator pointed out decades ago.

This description from the Qur’an itself indicates that Muslims should approach Muhammad as a model to derive inspiration for bringing benefit to any setting. And the benefit should connect with the nature of that environment. The implication: Establishing Islamic life is not about implementing a carbon copy of life in 7th century Medina.

At the same time, this critical period in Islamic history is not to be discarded from Muslim identity consciousness. Rather, Muslims should study all of it, even elements which may not jibe with our 21st century environment, to derive spiritual principles to benefit the moral, material, and psychological well-being of contemporary human society.

Jihadist Salafis miss this mode because they approach Muhammad and his early followers like characters in an ancient play. And when the contemporary world is vastly different from that play’s script, they believe they must destroy the environment just so they can create a replica theater, complete with stage, costumes, and props to fit the play’s period. Proof of this is in their approach to antiquities.

The Taliban’s demolition of giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan in early 2001 and Islamic State’s destruction of countless ancient artifacts in Iraq and Syria since 2014 is the unfortunate logical conclusion of a kindergarten-level understanding of Islam. The Qur’an does recount the story of another prophet, Abraham, smashing idol statues. And Muhammad reportedly destroyed idols that had been placed around the Kabba. But by interpreting these accounts as precise acts to imitate, their spiritual significance evades literalist thinkers.

However, when one views these acts as a mode instead of script, idols can represent concepts, habits, traditions, or possessions that people cling to that hinder the soul and constrain the intellect. They also can point to the barriers people imagine between themselves and God. This interpretation allows for personal analogy, where anyone can reflect on what may be the “idols” in their life that they need to remove for the progression of their soul.

In this light, Prophet Muhammad’s mission provides a pattern for finding ways to bring mercy to all of the conflicts and disharmony we face, in all of our personal or social “worlds.”

A similar distinction should be made about Prophet Muhammad’s involvement in war, which jihadists claim as a precedent for their own insurgencies. The Qur’an does speak unequivocally about war as part of the early experience of the Muslim ummah, although verses about death or destruction appear only in about two percent of the entire text.

Again, plenty of scholarly arguments exist to rebuke the narrative calling for violence in jihadist conflicts around the world. But the best counter-narrative is a simple one. Most Muslims are familiar with the context surrounding Muhammad’s fight in the later half of his mission. The Qur’an granted permission to fight because Muslims were receiving unabated, violent religious persecution for more than a decade. Muhammad’s mode was to preach a simple, monotheistic message which had been forwarded by earlier prophets. It was met by the leaders of the Quraysh with what would today be called massive violations of human rights.

People were discriminated against, dispossessed, and killed because they would not abandon their worship. The first impulse of Muhammad was peaceful patience and perseverance for more than a decade. And the verse which eventually allowed fighting contextualized such self-defense as necessary for also protecting the freedom of worship of Jews and Christians.

This provides a Qur’anic litmus test to anyone evaluating the credibility of the jihadist cause. One should ask, “Is their fight responding to a real threat against religious freedom?”

Some jihadist sympathizers may point to events soon after the early Muslim community eventually gained victory over Mecca, where the Prophet sent out military expeditions to consolidate the strength of the newly empowered, yet fragile ummah. Arab tribes that submitted to new Muslim rule and agreed to embrace the Muslim identity were forced to destroy their idols and fall under the Prophet’s leadership.

However, history also shows that this period was one of negotiation and alliance-making, not political Islam absolutism. According to various biographers of Muhammad writing about this time, in many cases Arab tribes were allowed to keep their religious traditions in exchange for entering into agreements of cooperation, keeping their own distinct identity, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, or pagan. Any hostility was based on whether the tribe would be a threat or ally to the nascent Muslim community, not whether it followed Islam’s beliefs and practices. The notion that non-Muslims, minding their own business, should be warred upon as a matter of course to convert them to Islam, was not part of the Prophet’s methodology or motivation in warfare.

But even with this context, Muslims in the 21st century must understand that the references to fighting and war in the Qur’an and in Muhammad’s biography have more apt implications for spirituality and mindset than any physical battle.

For example, the Qur’anic term often translated as martyr is shaheed, but it literally means “a witness.” Muslims use a derivative of this word toward the end of every ritual prayer when reciting the declaration of faith, bearing witness to God’s oneness and Muhammad’s messengership.

So, the word’s full Arabic meaning points to the concept of verifiable proof. And it implies giving one’s whole self for God. In Muhammad’s time, individuals certainly gave their lives on the battlefield. But this idea of selflessness and sacrifice can inspire the believer to strive in all types of endeavors. And the historical fighting against the Kafiroon, usually translated as “disbelievers” can be analogous to the struggle between faith and altruism on one hand and evil and selfishness on the other – even within one’s soul. In fact, the Qur’an corrects those who use the term “believer” loosely. The Book describes a believer as a lofty, internal condition and not just an external label one can profess.

Muslims must access the deeper insights of this scripture, otherwise shallow interpretations will continue to allow Islam to be hijacked by armed groups participating in terrorism, often under the facade of freedom-fighting or liberation movements.

Renewing Muslim culture is more appropriate than reforming Islam. The notion that Islam needs to be reformed as a religion is incorrectly presumptuous and even if it weren’t, it would be an elusive goal. This contention, widely promoted in some intellectual circles might just be inappropriate mirror imaging of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation came at a time when the Church controlled the Christian layman’s access to scripture, its interpretation, and in principle, the salvation of its followers. In many cases, the Church forbade translating the Bible into local languages from Latin in order to stop the influence of reformers it considered heretics.

Martin Luther’s reformation aimed to disrupt the authority that Church hierarchy held over religious teachings and emphasize the Bible alone as the source for all affairs of the faith. Luther also sought to make the Bible readable by the laity, and thus translated into local languages. This brought scriptural interpretation within the reach of the Christian masses.

This reformation’s end-state is already present in Islam, where it is widely accepted that the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad are the chief sources of the religion and that clerics, while important, are not the arbiters of individual salvation. The current problem of violence by Muslims in the name of religion is not the result of a centralized religious authority. In fact, some could argue that it is exacerbated by its lacking. Jihadist movements often prop up their own clerics who may have little credibility within mainstream Islamic scholarship.

So, Islam already is constituted in a way which allows for varied and competing expressions of the faith. So, why has not a more enlightened interpretation of Islam won over those who are attracted to jihadism? Culture. There is a culture of uncritical thinking which determines the way many Muslims engage Islam.

An overly-literalistic and shallow reading of scripture is not intrinsically part of Islam. I converted while in college in the late 1990s largely through self-study, reading an English translation of the Qur’an, and without much engagement with the Muslim community initially. Born and raised in California, having already strong spiritual leanings in my young adulthood and an appreciation for critical thinking, it never dawned on me to interpret verses about fighting in the Qur’an as a prescription to wage war against non-Muslims. And as I learned about Muhammad’s life, I found no directive for me to join some sort of caliphate political structure.

What I did discover as I eventually interacted more with Muslim communities was that many others approached Islam with narrow-mindedness. I sensed this in proselytizing literature and Friday sermons which differed from the universality which drew me to the religion. Before I had ever heard the term Islamist, I remember thinking to myself as a recent convert that many were practicing some sort of “Islam-ism,” presenting the faith as a self-absorbed, particularistic sect.

For example, in college I started reading a popular English translation of the Qur’an given to me by a relative when I was in high school. From the translation, I got the sense that the Islamic identity as one in unison with the religion of the prophets preceding Muhammad. And I remember reading verses arguing that earlier religious peoples erred by becoming more attached to the particulars on their faith, drifting from universalism to sectarianism. It appeared to me that Islam instead provided a unifying, not divisive religious identity. But I soon began to notice many Muslims doing just what the Qur’an criticized – expressing themselves as a party simply “rejoicing in that which is with itself.”

In my early Qur’anic reading, I also found a constant call for the reader to use his or her intellect. To reflect. Throughout the Book I noticed passages of rhetorical questioning, a style that seemed to encourage the believer to come to faith through reasoning, not blind acceptance. This to me, showed an appreciation for critical thinking.

There was even a story about Abraham asking God to explain to him more clearly how the dead could be raised back to life. When, in response, God questioned Abraham as to whether he did not believe, Abraham responded that he did, but he just wanted to put his heart at ease; a clear example that it is ok to bring intellectual curiosity to God’s mysteries.

This all was intellectually stimulating. But though I gained these insights as a new explorer of Islam’s sacred text, it was apparent that this way of thinking about the faith was not predominant as I began to move more in Muslim circles. It seemed that many Muslims were not encouraged approach scripture intellectually or seek the meaning behind religious rituals.

One time after I had converted, I happened to be at a mosque open house where non-Muslims were invited to visit. I overheard one of the visitors ask the imam if there was any spiritual significance to the various postures in the Muslim prayer ritual. The imam responded curtly, saying that Muslims did not worry about the meaning behind the ritual, but do it because God commands it. I could only think that such a response would be quite the turnoff to a spiritual seeker.

The difference between Islam as I initially discovered it and the religion I saw many Muslims propagate was not scripture by itself, but the cultural lens through which I engaged it; a lens valuing intellectual freedom and spiritual depth.

Culture influences how Muslims engage and think about religion. It impacts how they extrapolate from Muhammad’s life history. The collective Muslim culture must be refined because it’s static and particularistic approach to scripture cultivates religious antagonism to a world which is increasingly dynamic and pluralistic. And in this pluralistic environment, when conflicts over political power and social grievances arise, this culture engenders religiously-framed violence as a logical conclusion. To push back this phenomenon, Muslim communities must approach religious texts with a cultural lens that respects the human intellect as a companion of faith, not its adversary.

However, cultural change is not brought about by policy speeches or (dare I say it) Op-eds. Culture comes from the attitudes and habits that parents pass on to children, ideas that teenagers circulate on social media, books that stimulate popular discussion, and of course, all types of entertainment and artistic expression. These things determine how people think and what they deem acceptable or unacceptable behavior.

In Muslim communities around the world today, Islamic scholars and imams probably are less influential on young people than art, entertainment, and social media. So, the question is not how to reform the Islamic religion, but how to cultivate a culture where Muslims derive enlightenment from religion and where shallow interpretations are unappealing; how to influence thinking and thus, behavior.

Some may think that this may be more possible in the West where religious tradition is less fixed than in Muslim-majority countries. That probably is true. But the broader culture of the U.S. and Europe has long influenced cultural attitudes in the rest of the world. It follows that Western Muslims who have reconciled their faith with pluralism should be well-positioned to engage the Muslim-majority cultures of Asia and Africa. Islam’s global demography today means that Muslims in the West might be the overlooked catalyst for cultural renewal for the Muslim ummah.

Muslim thought leaders in the West can take on this role by creating films, television programs, music, and other expressions that speak to this generation’s cultural appetites while drawing on central ideas of the Qur’an: the nobility of human nature, the importance of thinking and self-reflection, the long-term rewards of doing good in the world, and the hazards arising from abusing one’s human talents and mistreating others. God is key to all of these, but art done well need not overemphasize the obvious. Perhaps Islam’s great benefit to society today might be in offering audiences the option for good entertainment without disregarding universal moral principles.

Jihadists assume they have a monopoly on the idea of a grand and noble Islamic mission. But undoing the warped thinking about Islam that they have reinforced in the minds of many Muslims and non-Muslims alike may be the biggest Islamic cause of our age. If Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad’s mission was to be a benefactor for all aspects of human endeavor, informed by the light of revelation, we must assess how well we benefit the world; not in Friday sermons and dawa literature, but in advancing humanity through education, business, politics, and culture.

To give Islam the respect it deserves in the eyes of the world, the real global jihad has nothing to do with fighting the West, but everything to do with raising up the spiritual, mental, and material condition of people. This was Prophet Muhammad’s methodology. And it thusly propelled Muslims in the generations soon after him to advance in knowledge, science, and culture.

The true Islamic battlefield of the 21st century is in overcoming the influence of those who are blocking this potential mercy. Ironically, the people obstructing the beauty of Islam are not non-Muslims, secularists, or atheists, but rather those who cloak themselves in Islamic identity while trying to impose a most hollow understanding of our faith onto the world.

As Muslims concerned about our religion, we must be clear about the real threats facing our communities. And if we reflect on how the Qur’an speaks to the soul, it should be clear that the biggest challenge to our faith is not the enemy outside of us, but the enemy within.

Extremist narratives gain traction and go viral because they inspire. A new Muslim class of creatives should arise, learn from this, and produce art that connects to the hearts and minds which many mainstream religious leaders and scholars aren’t reaching. This cultural renewal, rooted in an enlightened understanding of scripture and Islamic history could inspire human excellence. And it may be the best way to wrestle control of religious interpretation from the hijackers.



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